Monthly Archives: January 2014

Finding the right format

Open Office/MS WordPhil: There have been many obstacles in the path of our writing efforts in the last year. Work, moving house, more work, babies – in other words, life. If you want to publish a novel, you just have to suck those up and get on with it. That’s what differentiates novelists from those who like the idea of writing a book but will never get around to it. Well, until you get a top publishing deal and can give up real work for a life of lounging around in front of a computer thinking up stories anyway.

Another problem, but one of our own making occurred at the same time. This time it wasn’t so much a speed hump on our road to literary greatness, more a brick wall.

Back in August, we’d rewritten the first 3 chapters of the book and sent them over to Libroediting for proof reading. Liz had done the biz and sent a file back complete with suggested changes. Candice being otherwise occupied, I volunteered to take a look.

Being a good boy, I quickly opened up the file and hit a problem. On my computer, because I don’t want to be beholden to The Man and also a cheapskate, I use OpenOffice for word processing. Candice and Liz use Word. For some reason, the document as I saw it was sprayed across a huge number of pages with Liz’s comments dotted around seemingly randomly. This isn’t a problem I’ve had before, but as my past life on an IT helpdesk tells me, you only have problems with important files.

“Oh dear”, I thought. Something like that anyway.

Which all helps to explain why it has taken 4 months for anything to happen. I was too busy with what I laughingly call real work to chase things up. Even if I had, other matters were slightly higher up the priority list of she who I’d be chasing it up with.

Never mind. All is now sorted. The file has been re-saved into RTF format. I was able to open this, read the comments, make changes to the text and send it back for bedtime reading. We now have 12 pages of book opening that seems pretty tight. All sorts of stuff that used to be gradually introduced is now pelted at the reader like crystalline water in a snowball fight. By the end, you know a lot more about Kate and the situations she finds herself in – the basis of the story you will hopefully now be desperate to read.

Next – the query letter and then to the Post Office. I have “Writers and Artists Yearbook” out of the library in preparation.

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It’s top ten…

Candice: People keep asking me where the name Erin came from for my daughter.  Well, it took months of web searching and conversations going ‘so and so, nope, what about this one, nope’.  But as we looking through the names we realised we didn’t want something that was ‘Top Ten’. What do I mean by this, well a name that was in the top ten of popular names in the UK for the last few years. Having a different name has helped (and hindered me) over the years and I wanted her to also have something different.

Searching for a character name is very similar to looking for one for your child. It has to suit their personality and reflect their approach.  I always knew our protagonist was Kate but some of the other characters were harder to define.  In this case, you could change them later on (as we did when we realised we had Olive and Olivia) but with a child, once they are registered you are a bit stuck.

I think I felt as much pressure getting Erin’s name right as I did the characters in our book, and it our other stories.  Some times they just came to me, e.g. a story which we have yet to publish about an office worker was based on the lady I sat next to at the time, Lindsay, but others have struggled to find a voice, the story might come but the character name does not.  But it has to be right, else people will read the book or story and go ‘hum, I like this book but they just don’t feel like a John to me’.  It also depends on your own experience of that name, alot of the names we rejected for both book and daughter were because we’d gone to school, worked or otherwise met someone with that name and therefore it has a bad association.  I went to school with a lad called Dominic and he used to get teased terribly and they would pronounce his name as if he had a speech problem, something that I can still hear now.  So I’d never call a child Dominic.

Have you changed your name?  Do you have any examples of names you would avoid for the same reason?

And why an image of Kylie?  Well, when Kylie and Jason were big in the mid 80’s suddenly we had a lot of Kylie’s around. I think the same might have happened with my name after the character in Coronation street 😦

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Where’s your thinking space?

Twin toilets in a men's cubicle at Sochi's Olympic Biathlon Centre Candice: A storm has exploded over an unusual Russian habit, highlighted at the Sochi games.  Apparently its quite common in Russia to have communal toilets!

Now, we all know guys have urinals together, but I’ve never know a number of loos all in a row.  The last time I saw that it was in a Roman ruin.  However, it make me think – do they do business while they are doing their business?

Going back to the Romans, the baths were the place where everything got done.  Over a succession of different bath rooms and ablutions, the men of the Roman world put the world to rights and came up with their deals, before stepping out a fresh.  We’ve really only just got back to the progressive levels of the Roman’s recently I would say, but we do it more via networking groups in pubs rather than in the Sauna.

Back in Russia, do they do their thinking in groups while sitting round on the communal loos?  Obviously Phil and I work as a writing team, but we’ve never taken our writing discussions to this level.  The closest is a cuppa and cake in the local tea shop.  I get my ideas where ever I can, the pool is a good place to have a think as you go up and down and up and down (though I often forget how many lengths I have done), I dont think they have ever come to me on the toilet but there is always a first time! But I can picture a group of men writing War and Peace while on the bog.  Beats reading a crappy version of the Sun as you sit.

The athletes competing in the Winter Olympics are shocked to say the least, even wondering why two loos only have one loo roll.  Can you pass the time of day with a competitor while passing the paper?  Perhaps this is the time to discuss tactics with your team mate?

Currently being awake regularly in the wee small hours, and finding this also means a need for a wee, I have been doing some of my own thinking on and off the loo, but I don’t think I’ll be asking Phil to share ideas with me in that environment!

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Write your story down, NOW

Galloway Forest (7), Lowlands, Scotand.Phil: Yesterday I visited Candice for the first time since her daughter Erin was born. Mother and baby are doing well although I think the little one was unimpressed with my stripy shirt clashing with her own on-trend stripy onesie.

When you look at a newborn child you are seeing a blank page. Their story has only just begun. It could be filled with adventure, hopefully with love, perhaps with misfortune. Like opening a novel, you never really know what is going to happen.

In contrast, a friend of mine, John, died last week. He was well over 80 and his story had reached its final page.

Along the way there were many twists and turns. He used to recount some of these to groups of friends occasionally. Much of his life had been spent in agriculture and the story I remember most involved his time as an agricultural contractor.

In the run-up to Christmas, he and his colleagues had been ploughing in Scotland. On Christmas Eve the job was finished and they had to return home with their machinery. This involved a journey of 500 miles. On tractors. Not your modern tractors either, old ones that rumbled along with a top speed of around 20 mph. You can imagine how long it took.

In a hurry to get home, if you can call riding a tractor a hurry, they drove through the night arriving early on the festive morning. To make matters more entertaining, it was mid winter in an era when we had serious winters.

John’s description of being bundled up in all the clothes he could muster and riding an aged agricultural machine were both funny and awe-inspiring.

Sadly, all those stories have gone now. As far as I am aware, they only exist in the memories of those he told them too.

Candice was talking about the importance of trying to write down some of her recent experiences. While we won’t turn this into a baby blog, you can be sure that some of these will influence our future writing either in novels or short stories. Whatever, it’s great to get memories down in print. Perhaps we should all write out own autobiographies. Maybe they won’t be blockbuster sellers, but maybe one or two people will read and enjoy them.

At least the memories will live on.

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What a surprise!

Candice: Regular blog followers may have noticed I have been absent for a week or so, leaving Phil to do all the hard work.  This isn’t because I have been on holiday – something that he would usually moan about (!) but I’ve actually been a little occupied with something else.

I had a surprise on the 1st January when things kicked off a bit earlier than expected and by the 4th January my lovely daughter Erin arrived.  Yes, this is the child who was due on the 20th January.  So you could say Richard and I are some what taken aback by our latest addition.  We are now into week two of ‘Parenting for Dummies’ and every day think we have found the magic knack, and then something changes.  She’s a feisty one this child, just like her mother.

So all my plans for getting some writing activity out there, doing submissions, painting walls and catching up on paperwork have all gone out of the window, replaced by a version of the song that has been in the charts recently.  Its not ‘Eat, sleep, rave, repeat’, its ‘Eat, sleep, feed, repeat’.

I’m hoping to get some normality back week on week, along with more than 4 hrs sleep in a row, and am aspiring for Phil and I to have a go a what we had planned for my work down time prebirth.  But hey, as Phil said earlier, I have to check with the young lady who is controlling my diary at present.

However, this experience has added a whole new string to my bow with ideas for stories, and another book in our ‘Kate’ series.  Speaking of which, we plan to reveal some of the first book soon for your delectation.  Re the stories, all I can say is think medieval torture chamber and you’ll be close to the sounds I heard through the night while waiting for my labour to kick off….

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Win, Lose or Die – Blokelit?

 winloseordiePhil: This post was going to be a review of John Gardner’s James Bond Book Win, Lose or Die. I was going to mention that it’s a sort of blokey chick-lit with war and gun references replacing the shopping and designer brands.

It is of course. There’s loads of detail lavished on weapons systems and recalling military manoeuvres in the Falklands war. It all gets in the way of the plot probably proving that ex-military types are less adept at handling this sort of detail than most chick-lit authors. Since I didn’t grow up reading comics featuring war stories were characters would shout, “For you Fritz, the war is over”, I found myself wishing there was less minute detail on the ammunition.

Needless to say, I don’t have to do this as it’s pretty much what I said when reviewing another book from the same author just under a year ago. That’s the problem with a long running blog, it’s easy to repeat yourself.

Looking at my words, I obviously enjoyed The Man from Brabarossa rather more than Win, Lose or Die. I can understand that because the plot in this one doesn’t stack up. In fact there is a hole big enough to drive a battleship in to. A hole so large, you wonder why no-one thought to mention it before publication.

Spoiler Alert: For a chapter or two, Bond is taken off to a US military base for debriefing. Except it isn’t a US base, it’s a fake set up by the bad guys. Later is turns out that MI6 knew he had been sent there, that it was a fake – and didn’t bother to mention any of this to Bond. Had he known, he’d have spotted the dodgy Wren (who readers susssed out about 10 minutes after he met her anyway) and the climax of the story would have never taken place.

You could argue that this might have ruined the end of the book but not as much as wondering what they heck M and the rest of Bonds bosses were playing at.

That’s not the only plot issue either although this one is possibly more timely nowadays. It seems that nearly everything we say is being recorded both on the telephone and in the street. Computers use voice analysis software to listen for key phrases which prompts experts to listen properly to. This all sounds very like the PRISM listening programme revealed last year by Edward Snowden leaking documents. However, in 1989, I think Gardener was over-egging just how much surveillance was going on.

More to the point, why would the bad guys have a slogan they kept repeating which alerted the security services? I know Bond villans are normally a bit thick, after all why do they always reveal their plans instead of just shooting 007, but this takes dumbness to a new level.


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Second hand bookshops – a bad thing for authors?

Jurby Junk - BooksChristian asked on Tuesday: You often mention buying second-hand books in charity shops – do you see any ethical issues with this considering you’re hoping to become a published author?

Phil: Interesting point and one I’d not really thought of before. I buy books from second-hand shops. I love buying books from second-hand shops more than from proper bookshops selling new volumes as there is always the chance of being surprised with the discovery of a new author.

But when I buy books this way, am I reducing the potential sales for anyone trying to break into the book selling market?

Hmmm. I suppose I’ve only ever bought a Dan Brown book second-hand. But I’m not sure he’s sitting in an unheated hovel contemplating Aldi beans on toast for the 23rd night running and waving his fist at the computer shouting, “Curse you Parker…”

He’s not normal though. Normal is and author being excited by sales of 5000 copies. Maybe if I bought less from the pre-owned shelf they would shift 5001.

I think I’d argue that second-hand bookshops show how much people value books. Most of the stuff we own will be thrown away once we’ve finished with it. Books though, we keep them on shelves carefully and eventually take them to a shop so someone else can enjoy them. Prizing books is prizing ideas and I think this is A Good Thing. On that basis, I have to say that second-hand shops are probably good for authors. Just like libraries, they make books available to a wide range of readers and the more readers there are, the bigger the market for writers.

Second hand shops offer authors immortality too. Unless you are very famous, Waterstones won’t have you on sale unless you are current and preferably out there selling copy at festivals and in the media. The pre-loved market doesn’t care if you are in a box 6 feet under the ground, they will offer readers the chance to discover your work posthumously. I’m sure that there are plenty of writers who see their book as a baby to live on after them.

Finally, can we as authors, make use of this market? Candice and I have had our book made up by into a proper, printed work. There’s nothing to stop me donating some of these copies to a local charity bookshop. Who knows who might buy them?

OK, it’s an expensive way to publicise yourself but not unheard of. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was a sales flop until the publisher started leaving copies in public places – these were picked up and read generating the word of mouth that turned the book into a success. Leaving books lying around sounds like a pretty risky strategy to me, I think they printed around 2000 copies to make this work, but bookshops are full of reasonably serious readers looking for something to read. If your book appeals to that demographic, is this a potential plank for your marketing?


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Reading Dr Who

Dr Who booksPhil: To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the BBC’s DrWho, a range of books have been packaged up in new covers, a bit of text from the author has been added to the start and then they were thrust out into the world. Whether sales were rubbish or the plan was that they would be distributed this way, the books ended up in a “3 for a fiver” offer in my local remaindered bookshop.

How could I resist?

Reading a book based on a TV show is an interesting experience. None of them are great tomes and one was even joyously knocked off in a single day. I love being able to wallow for a day just reading and eating chocolate. That’s what Christmas is all about.

Anyway, what are they like?

Festival of Death is a Tom Baker (the best Doctor) story involving some complicated time travel stuff with 3 versions of the same Doctor in the same space. This was the one I read in a day and I’m glad I did as the plot is reasonably complicated. The author mentions some serious planning in the new introductory text. For most of us, our characters bumble along on a single timeline, perhaps we get occasional flashback but the subject of our interest generally stays firmly rooted in time and can’t meet another version of his or her self. Stick with the story and it’s good fun.

Earthworld occupies a very special place in Who history. It dates from the era when the show had been cancelled, living only in the minds and literature of the die-hard fan base. The BBC maintained a Who desk which had responsibility for keeping the show alive with novels and it was from here that this book was commissioned. Ostensibly a Paul McGann style Doctor story, it includes companions who were never part of the TV version, something that confused me to start with. A quick look on the Interweb filled in the background and after a while I wasn’t worried.

The story takes place on an Earth theme park of a type that will be familiar to anyone who saw the film Westworld. There’s a lot of philosophical stuff about what it means to be human and some very poignant parts as one companion is recovering from seeing her boyfriend killed in the previous story.

Remembrance of the Daleks is the only book here that is a novelisation of a TV story. Easily the best from the underrated Sylvester McCoy era, it appealed to me as the only decent story he got during his tenure. What’s interesting is that the book version allows the characters to develop depth and a proper back story. The companion “Ace” always struck me as one of the most annoying people allowed in the Tardis but here we get character development and an explanation where she came from, something the TV version omitted. Maybe my memories from 1988 (I looked it up) aren’t great but the books takes a good story and makes it a much richer experience and an awful lot better for it.

Worth a fiver? Certainly. Apparently 12 books were released, I might go back and see if they have the rest.


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Don’t lose the plot Harry

Harry Hill CakePhil: Athough team nolanparker will be getting back in to the writing (and cake munching hopefully) swing soon, there isn’t anything to report at the moment so I’ll mention a film I went to see on New Years Day – The Harry Hill Movie.

The film itself is brilliantly summed up by one poster on the Rotten Tomatoes review site, “I’d rather eat my socks than watch this again.”

I think Harry Hill is great and some of the movie looks fabulous. There are a few entertaining jokes and you get to point and gape when you realise Jim Broadbent is in it. I won’t say who he plays but you don’t expect THAT. It’s just that it doesn’t really have a plot and you really wish it had.

There are lots of sketches stuck together but the basic story is Harry’s hamster (Called Abu – Abu Hamster – Geddit? I thought it was funny, but suspect it might have gone over the heads of the kids in the audience) is (mis)diagnosed as dying and is taken for a last week in Blackpool. Along the way his evil twin brothers henchmen try to kidnap Abu. As Nauseam.

If you want an idea how this pans out – remember those Christmas special episode of old sitcoms where they threw money at a normal episode, stretched it to three times the normal running time and it showed.

Jokes and set-piece scenes are great in books and film. They are the bits you remember. It’s just that they need to be part of a bigger whole. We’ve got a few crackers in our book but at least one has been edited out already as it interrupted the flow of the story. Those left bring something to the table by moving the plot along, as well as being funny. Oh, and every one is different from the others. Very, very different.

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