Monthly Archives: December 2013

What is it about New Year’s Eve?

Candice: To our readers out there it may already be the new year when you read this, or you may be waiting for it to come but to one and all I hope you have had a great 2013 and an even better 2014.

I do like NYE but I also find it can be a big let down as there is all this build up to the celebrations and at a 1 minute past 12 you have done auld lang syne and its all over.  This year me and the other half plus my sister and Fiance are all off to a local hotel for a meal and knees up, the last big fling before things change in the Nolan house hold.  I am looking forward to a good night and throwing the bump around as best I can.

I’ve had some good and bad New Years.  A long time ago I was dating a rather unpredictable guy who was supposed to meet me in a pub to see in the NY after he’d been out with his mates and me with mine.  Well I waited and I waited and no show – so I left the pub before midnight with my mates and then popped back abit later… to find the bloke all over another woman.  Let us just say drinks were thrown and the relationship didn’t last much longer.

I’ve also had some great ones, often the most unplanned where you pull a group of people together at the last-minute, go to a party or club and are dancing to 3 am.  These often involved me pulling a chap or even the sax player of the band we were watching one year!

I’m sure we all have storied but I have been thinking about that book ‘One Day’.  I think it would be really interesting to pull together lots of people’s experiences of New Years Eve as there are bound to be stories to tell.  It’s often the point when things come to a head, or you sit down after a few glasses of wine and think “hang on, what am I doing here…or what am I doing here with him/her.”

So tell us your stories and lets compare notes.

Happy 2014!

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The Uxbridge English Dictionary

Phil: It’s Christmas and I’m not going to pretend that much writing work is taking place or that you are really in a state to make the best of any carefully crafted words dear reader. Instead, fill your glass, grab another mince pie from the plate and enjoy a few definitions from the Uxbridge English Dictionary.

For those who are wondering what I’m on about, this is a round from the popular Radio 4 panel game, “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue.”. Contestants have to provide new definitions for existing words. To be honest, most of these are bad puns but as writers, we love a bit of wordplay don’t we?

Abandon – Pub entertainment.

Abundance – Similar to Morris Dancing but with cakes instead of sticks.

Academy – School for Cads.

Adultery – What happens after puberty.

Apogee – How you describe yourself after too much Christmas dinner.

Beware – Clothing for bees.

Boycott – A bed for a young male child.

Busking – An owner of many buses.

Camiknickers – Camera thieves.

Canopy – Tin of urine

Cavendish – A bit like a cavern.

Constrain – A railway service for prisoners.

Descant – An ant with an office job.

Faculty – Cockney for running out of PG Tips

Fielding – To find a bell in the dark.

Forebears – Bad day for Goldilocks.

Gangster – A criminal pasty.

Mutant – An ant with no voice.

Offend – To circumcise.

Phantom – To waft air over a male cat.

Polygon – A deceased parrot.

Torture – Like a torch but more so.

Whisky – A bit like a whisk.

Wrench – A female spanner.

Zulu – A toilet at an animal park.

(If you enjoyed these, I pinched some of them from the Online Uxbridge English Dictionary or just listen to the programme and jot them down like I did)

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Berlin

While we have been a bit slack on the writing front and don’t have a festive story as a present for you this year, we have a couple of pieces in the nolanparker archive that haven’t been given an airing. This effort was destined for a short story writing competition which we assume we didn’t win. Despite this, we don’t think it’s bad, so hope you enjoy our non-Christmassy tale.

Berlin

The house was uninviting but her future lay inside.

Grey paint peeled from weather beaten walls. A few straggly plants clinging to life drooped over the edges of a rotten window box. Peering through the filthy glass, all she could see were threadbare and stained curtains. A tiny, barely glimpsed movement revealed there was someone in there.

She stood in front of the front door and reached for the knocker. A moments pause. Just as she had paused before. Each time something had made her turn and walk away. Now it might be too late.

A final furtive look around to see if there was anyone watching her. All she could see was the clouds of her own breath. The gathering gloom made it feel even colder. Every breath felt like someone was stabbing the inside of her lungs.

A few months ago, it had all been so different. The summer sun was shining. The flowers were in full bloom. She was studying at Berlin University to become a doctor and in a few months planned to be back home working in the same Dresden hospital she had been born in.

Best of all Bernhard would be with her. They had met at a concert five months earlier and had been inseparable ever since. The day he asked her to marry him was the best of her  life. There had been no hesitation in her answer or any restraint in the kiss that had followed it. For a month she hadn’t been able to take her eyes off the ring he had bought her. The ring she could now feel under her glove.

After the best day came the worst.

Bernhard was an engineering student. He was lucky enough to be chosen to take part in a conference had at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg.

A trip to decadent West”, he joked proudly showed off the papers that would allow him to travel, “I will try my best to avoid being corrupted by their degenerate ideals”.

They laughed. Like other students, they enjoyed what little Western music they could find of and sometimes gazed at the other side of the city wondering what it was really like. Surely not everyone was an evil Nazi as the political officers told them.

Bernhard even got into a fight with a drunken party member in a bar who berated them with stories of what he said was the evils being perpetrated just a few miles away and demanded to know why anyone should want to expose themselves to them. She dabbed his eye with a cold flannel to stop the swelling and soothed his temper. He would soon see it all with his own eyes. If they weren’t black that is.

A couple of days later, she chocked back tears as he climbed the steps of the coach that would take the group to the conference. Bernhard waved and blew a kiss from through the window. She watched the street until the vehicle was out of sight. Then it was back to her rooms while repeating that he would only be away for four days. She went to bed staring at the calendar where the date was ringed in red and drifted off to sleep.

Then the wall arrived.

In the university canteen everyone was talking about it. Overnight soldiers had started stringing barbed wire along the streets. People said that they had heard gunshots and someone claimed to have seen a man trying to cross the line being killed. Her heart froze as she realised what this meant. Bernhard was on the wrong side of the divide.

Weeks seemed like years  but she heard nothing. Concentration on daily tasks became impossible. Nights were filled with dreams of her love calling over the barbed wire.

Suddenly there was a letter. It took a few moments before she recognised the writing as his. People said it was hardly readable but it didn’t matter. His fingers had touched the envelope. His pen had caressed the page.

Not just his hand though. The letter had been opened, probably by the Stasi. Everyone knew about them of course but until that moment her life had never knowingly been touched by the secret police. Now they had pried into her private world. Defiled it. Dirtied it. Tears welled up. How dare they ? In a flash of anger she nearly threw the envelope away.

But she didn’t.

She unfolded the letter and read it. Quickly at first and then again and again. Each time absorbing the words as though trying to soak the ink itself into her fingers. His ink. The only connection they had.

Bernhard was safe. He had been found a room in the house of one of a fellow student from the conference. When news of the division of the city reached them, many had decided this was their chance to stay in the West. He said he had wanted to come back to her but had been worried that if he tried, the authorities might wonder why only a few of the party returned. The Western authorities had been only too happy to help these poor refuges from Communism.

Should she reply ? How could she ignore it ? Not knowing if her letter would ever arrive she hurriedly scrawled on some writing paper. At the post office the teller looked at her oddly but took the envelope and said it would be delivered. As she left there was a feeling that someone was watching her.

The wait for a reply seemed interminable but at last it arrived. Again, the envelope had been clumsily opened and re-sealed. For a while she just stared at the paper without reading the words.

Another letter posted. And another. And another. The teller was starting to recognise her so she started using different post offices around the city. After a few months she had been into nearly every one within walking distance and then had to start taking the tram to new districts.

Bernhard even remembered her birthday. He mentioned he might be travelling East on the day to meet Charlie. There was a point he wanted to check at noon. The code was crude but she in a flash she knew what he meant. Everyone knew that Checkpoint Charlie was what the Americans called the crossing.

On the day she stood at one side of the crossing and stared hard at the other side of the wall. He was there. A little fatter than before but unmistakable. He saw her and waved. She waved back. He tried to shout but the distance and noise was too great. In the end they just stood and stared at each other. She tried not to cry but eventually a tear ran down her cheek. A guard spotted her and shouted. Then he pointed his gun and she had to move away.

Back in her room she howled into her pillow. How could she bear to be apart ? Enquiries to see if there was a chance to visit the West had been sharply turned down. Far too many students had managed to escape already. The man she had talked to described it as a “brain drain”. He advised her not to try anything “silly” either in a way that made her shiver.

Her friends tried to console her. They said that the wall couldn’t last forever. Maybe Bernhard might come back. After all, he loved her and maybe the West wasn’t all it was cracked up to be anyway.

She hoped and dreamed they were right. Then she scolded herself for thinking that way. If Bernhard came back to her, his first few days would be spent being “de-briefed” in some  Stasi basement. Who knows what the bastards would do to him. They’d say he was a spy. She was sure that someone had been watching when they saw each other. They weren’t stupid, evil maybe but not stupid, they would have worked out Berhard’s code.

A week passed. Her friends were concerned. They kept telling her she needed to eat but her appetite had gone. Gone west. As she sat in the refectory toying with some awful slops pretending to be goulash, a blond man approached. He asked if the seat opposite her was taken. She grunted a response which he took to be negative and sat down.

Her companion seemed more interested in his food than she was. He was wolfing down the nauseating stew like he hadn’t eaten for a week. She tried to ignore the noise he made. Despite her best efforts he kept looking at her. Suddenly he spoke. Her face tried to express complete disinterest but there was something about his eyes that drew her in.

For a few minutes she resisted conversation but eventually he wore her down. He seemed to know a lot about her. For a moment she wondered if he was a plant. They said that there were spies at the university to check on disloyal feelings. He seemed to know about Bernhard. One of her friends had told him he said. Suddenly the tone of his voice dropped. He drew closer to her. She thought for a minute he was going to try and kiss her. There was still a bit of cabbage leaf in his beard. Seeing her recoil he looked slightly hurt and then lent in again.

Checking that no one was listening in he revealed that he asked if she had ever heard  about something called the Girrmann Group.

She thought and then shook her head. Even if she had known anything it wasn’t wise to admit it. You never really knew who you were talking to.

He smiled. The Girrmann Group might be able to help her he said. If she wanted to know more then she should meet him again the next day.

Suddenly her mind was a ball of confusion. Why was he telling her this? Was is a Stasi test? Had he thought her fiancée was out of the picture and was trying it on? How could she be sure? She twisted the ring on her finger again and thought  of Bernhard. What could the authorities do that was worse than separating her from him ?

More meetings in the refectory took place. Apparently discussing things in plan sight was the best way to avoid suspicion. That’s what he said anyway. She was glad of this. If he couldn’t try anything in a public place and she made sure he saw that she still wore her ring. Just in case

A week later and contacts were made, instructions given. No luggage. This was a one-way trip.

When it was whispered that escape was via the sewer system she had only a moments pause. All of a sudden it was serious. Until then, everything had seemed a bit like a game. Unreal. At the back of her mind a little voice said it could be a trap or even a cruel joke but she couldn’t bear the thought of that.

Her friends had become distant. Some had spotted her regular rendezvous and thought that she was “moving on” as one put it. Others felt she was just pining for Bernhard. She knew that if this worked, they would be questioned. Everyone would. The less they knew the better. Was it fair to them? Should she just wait for a bit to see if everything blew over?

In front of the house she pulled the bit of paper out of her pocket and looked at it for the hundredth time. This was the right address. The one she’d been at before and turned away at the last minute. This time she had to go through with it. Her friend had said that the route the group had used was likely to be closed. It was now or never. She turned at took a last look at the overcast October sky and knocked on the door.

Her future lay ahead. Whatever it was. At least there would be answers.

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A Clever Marketing Ploy?

Tethered Twins

Candice: As an independent worker I have always got my eye out for the next marketing trick or role mostly sent to me via the emails that land on my Blackberry every day.

Recently I’ve been reconnecting via Linked in, as I may be taking a six month break from it all, but I need to keep my eye on what is out there.  As part of that I am in a number of groups, and also receive regular emails on what is going on in the local marketing community.

This week I had one with the following:

“Online Marketing Manager Mike Essex is giving away copies of his first novel, Tethered Twins, to see what it takes to make a book go viral. It can be downloaded for free directly from Amazon http://amzn.to/1boKS0X and is ideal for fans of Sci-Fi or Dystopia like the Hunger Games.”

Hum, I thought, how clever is that.  You have a potential audience of thousands via Linked in who may or may not read this email, then there is a percentage who will click through and a smaller percentage that will download.  But, when you do email or direct marketing campaigns the expected return is often around 3%, so if that works for this it could be 1000 people perhaps.  What a really good way to get the word out there without having to work too hard.

Then I thought, how could Phil and I steal this idea.  Between the two of us we have you lovely blog followers, our own Linked in Groups, facebook and twitter as well.  Surely we could get together a group of people who might want to take up our enterprise?

Ok, fine, but you have forgotten one thing Nolan, you still haven’t finished the bugger!  Yes, I know I know, its on the eternal list.  The one that sits with the kind of conversation I have just had with my parents about what’s next to do in the house decorating front.  I must admit I am at the point where I just want this whole pregnancy thing over, I’m fed up with being ungainly and tired all the time (yes I know I will be tired for different reasons in the future…) but I am pinning my hopes on three weeks grace between finishing work and little person arriving to get some book stuff done (alongside painting etc).  I’m now at the point I’ve stopped telling people Phil and I have written a book as a bit embarrassing that things haven’t moved on. And I’m bored for you reader reading a blog about writing where there is no writing going on.  Come on, we’ve been so slack we haven’t even done a Christmas story this year.

Roll on the 31st December and finishing work and then I’m going to be stealing Mike’s idea.

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Finding unexpected communities for story settings

Wharf News

Phil: It’s Crimbo time and in an effort to get festive and find some prezzies, I took a trip down to London.

Our capital is a place that divides opinion. Personally, I love it but mostly because I don’t live there. As an occasional tourist I get to wander around marvelling at sights that are new to me, often without having to be at a particular place at any specific time.

Anyway, I ended up over in the city, specifically Canary Wharf. I know it’s not a normal tourist hotspot but if old buildings along docksides fascinate you, it’s worth a run out along the Docklands Light Railway for a nose. Being Saturday, the piazza surrounding the offices were quiet but I did spot this newspaper in a free paper holder. I’m a bit of a connoisseur of local press so grabbed a copy which a couple of days later I sat down to read.

When I did, I got a surprise. Canary Wharf and its imediate environs aren’t just home to a migrant red-braces clad banking population. There is a real community there. A mixed community of normal people and kids and even pensioners and even some who don’t wear achingly trendy casual clothes or a Saville Row suit. A good example is on page 3 where we have a nativity play performed on the Isle  of Dogs with animals  from Mudchute Farm.

I’ll be honest and say that this wasn’t what I’d expected. A quick trip through the Museum of London Docklands suggested that most “real” people had been displaced by those who could afford multi-million pound apartments. These sort of people tended to exist at work, within their beautifully appointed “cave” and perhaps at one or two of the better sort of restaurants in the immediate area. They feel no affiliation to wherever they live, it’s just convenience.

It appears I was wrong.

Anyway, as far as writing goes, unless you are working on one of those solar-system spanning epic sci-fi novels, it makes sense to base your story in a small area or at least a limited group of people. That way you can crack on with the story without having to explain where the action is taking place all the time. Soap operas are set in a street or a square for this reason.

Tripping over the Wharf makes me wonder if this community wouldn’t make a great location. You have a conflict of locals and incommers, not unlike the town and gown conflicts in Oxford. Limited geography makes research east. A day spent in the shadow of Canary Wharf would probably provide all you need. A little longer might give you a feel for the people who live there.

I feel like a Victorian explorer who has been trekking through the jungle. I’ve discovered there IS life up the Tames. Now I just need to write about it!

If you fancy keeping up with the local news from London Docklands: www.wharf.co.uk

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When is writing time?

Clock facePhil: I’ve always considered myself to be a morning person. Why this should be I don’t know.

I’ve never been one for a lie in. The last time I was still in bed after 9am I slept in a cot with a teddy bear.

In the office, I don’t take ages to warm up before starting work. 9am never involved me grouchily clutching a mug of coffee. Give me access to flexitime and I’m in at 8 just to build up my hours so I can go home early. If you need a volunteer for the early shift, I’m your man.

Despite this, now organisation of my time is pretty much down to me, I find that as far as writing goes, I function better in the evening and into the night. Those times when normal, sensible people are slouching in front of the telly, I’m at my most productive hammering away at the keyboard.

What’s going on? Is it the approach of tiredness forcing me to stop messing around and get things done? If I start early, I’m nothing like as efficient. I might be awake but the creatively I’m pretty useless. That bit of me seems to wake up during the day. Maybe it’s a little person living in my head who does like a lie in.

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Parlez Vous Francais?

Candice:  Apparently our gaelic writing friends are struggling to find a bigger market than their own turf.  According to the BBC, French books don’t sell well outside of their own country because the French are seen as too deep and intellectual.  And they aren’t very good at writing chic lit…

I have to say this probably relates to most of our European cousins, lets face it most of the books in the shops are British or American these days, the key European ones are more likely to be course text for English Lit students.  The same could be said for the music charts and films – they again are mainly populated by the English-speaking countries.

Why is this? Well it seems it goes both ways, the French don’t read as much of the stuff we select in our bookstores.  It’s highly unlikely you’d be sat on the Metro next to someone reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey‘. No our french colleagues are to clever for that.

Personally I think it gets lost in translation.  They always say American and the UK, split by a common language.  The Yanks struggle with our sense of humour (though they get Monty Python) and we take their stories with a pinch of salt.  But add in changing the words as well as cultural differences and I think it might be a step too far for most.

However, I’m not saying these guys are stupid.  I think its us English speakers who don’t try hard enough.  We will always opt for the easiest route as we are crap at learning another language, the closest most Brits get to talking to foreigners is slowing it down to say “Fish and Chips, please, senor”.

I have to admit if I had the option of a french film with subtitles or an English one I know which way I would go but then when I give them a chance, something like Leon or Amelie is the result.  Two cracking films.

To our European based readers – what do you think?

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