Monthly Archives: February 2014

A clash of cultures

Conference junkPhil: My work allows me the opportunity to visit trade shows now and again. These days it’s often halls full of interesting things to play with. Years ago, it was halls full of techie people trying to flog me things for Internet stuff.

Once upon a time, though, for one day only, I was actually one of the people manning a stand.

It was Hortex 2000, the horticultural industries biggest event of the year. I had spent month creating a CD-based manual for growers of ornamental plants. Well, I had taken the text provided by people who knew what they were talking about and beaten it into the publishing software that the thing ran on anyway. At least this was a prettier than the previous manual we’d published, on cabbages and Brussel sprouts!

Anyway, because I could wear a tie and was supposed to know about the disk, it fell to me to do some time on the stand.

My day started with getting lost in Telford. When I did make it in to the hall, I was largely ignored by the visitors. This was a relief as there wasn’t any point asking me technical questions on the content of the disk. Mind you, despite me, we still won “Product of the year” with it. Ha!

No, for technical grower stuff, you were pointed at one of the scientists.

Now, if I wasn’t wild about being on the stand, this was nothing compared to how they felt. The very concept of selling the results of their experiments was an anathema to them. Sadly, the world where bucket loads of government cash was being sloshed around had long since gone. Now we had a commercial arm of the organisation and a very impressive stand, the cost of which would have been the topic of conversation over many coffee breaks in the months to come. They were there to sell.

One or two saw this as an opportunity and tuned up in sharp suits with clean shoes. Most of the others didn’t see why they should dress any differently to the way they did at work. And that wasn’t very Saville Row. Our beautiful, gleaming white stand was occupied with people who, if they hadn’t needed them, the commercial staff would have shooed away for making the place look scruffy.

I can’t blame them. I didn’t want to be there. They didn’t want to be there. Unknowingly though, they have provided ideas for our book I didn’t know I’d be writing over a decade later.

Nowadays, I go to shows and collect freebies just like everyone else. I’m polite to the stand staff in case they too don’t want to be there. Worse, they could also be collecting ideas for a book…

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Lucky Man, a memoir by Michael J. Fox

Michael J. Fox in Congress

Candice: For the first time in ages I have finished a book.  It wasn’t a long or hard read but it is quite satisfying to have been able to do that after all this time.

I mentioned last week I was reading Michael J. Fox‘s autobiography and what a fan of his I had been growing up.  For those who might not know of him, he stared in the very successful ‘Back to the future’ films, of which there were three.  The comedy is, for those of you who can remember them, that one of them was set in the ‘future’ of 2015 – which is of course next year.  Unfortunately we won’t be driving flying cars by then, but some other part of the film are quite close to the truth (get it on Netflix and see what I mean).  I loved these films growing up, plus other classics such as ‘The Secret of my Success’ and ‘Teen Wolf’.

I always find reading autobiographies interesting as they shine a light on the things that you don’t know about people.  The point, I suppose, but the better ones give you a true insight rather than something sensationalised (how many ‘celebs’ own up to addictions or diseases in their books that just seem to be jumping on the band wagon).  Well in Fox’s case he has something that can’t be made up, Parkinson’s disease.  I remember reading about him having it many years ago and being floored  by this, especially as he was so young.

The book is well written as is jumps from present to past, taking us through the development of his symptoms and his denial, around his moving from home life to being a famous actor.  His rise to fame was fast, and he tells the story of how this can impact on you very well.  He drowned him self in booze and got into serious financial difficulties.

However the Parkinson’s descriptions are the ones that really make you think.  I’ve not seen him in anything for years, the book reminded me he was in ‘Spin City’ a great TV comedy, but he’s been on American TV trying to raise awareness of the disease.  Reading about how it took hold as he turned 30 really makes you think.  He took his opportunities when he could while the disease took hold but that must have been a scary time to see a shake in your hand become something much larger.

If you go on YouTube you can find footage of him presenting to the American government asking for more funding for Parkinsons, I don’t want to watch it as it will ruin my vision of the man I was so besotted with when I grew up.  I’m not saying I am ignoring his disease but I don’t want to burst that bubble.

The book is well worth a read as his approach to the disease now is something that other people should take note.  I suppose it helps that he has money and status unlike others living with it day-to-day but that can’t take away from his positive attitude.

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Tweeting BrianPhil: With a renewed push to get our book on the racks of your local airport bookstall, I’ve been digging around Twitter. As 21st Century authors, we can’t ignore one of the largest social media platforms, especially one that seems to be the main source of material for so many traditional media outlets nowadays.

Basically, I’ve been looking for firms who promote authors through Tweets and following them like a crazy stalker. Except that I don’t need to stalk, they won’t leave me alone.

One outlet promises to tweet to it’s 60,000+ real followers about you. Assuming they are real, then the law of averages says there must be someone out there who could show useful interest in you. Or at least, they would except for one little problem these marketeers haven’t spotted. Quite simply, they never, ever shut up.

I follow many people from nerdy transport fans, poets, writers, media people, useful local news services and even Brian the Robot from the insurance adverts (Don’t tell Candice, but I’m a bit of a connoisseur of good marketing. I tell her I think it’s all colouring in and playing with glitter though) all of whom seem to get this social media thing right. Those people I have un-followed always get the chop for the same reason.

Too. Many. Tweets.

The author marketing people were sending out over 50 tweets a day. I don’t have time to read all those. Quite frankly, there were so many of them, I couldn’t be bothered to scroll through and look at anyone else’s peals of wisdom. I’m pretty certain that no-one else has that sort of time either. Anyone likely to be looking for authors will want to spend time reading manuscripts, not random adverts on social media.

Marketing people. When you go to a party, do you like the person who stands in the middle of the room bellowing a stream of consciousness?

No? Well don’t do it on-line then.


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Multi tasking

I always wished I'd been tallerCandice:  I’m currently writing this post while rocking someone with my foot in their baby chair.  You know what they say about women being able to multitask, well I’ve been doing a lot of that recently since my new addition – making bottles, loading and unloading washing machines, eating – all this one hand.  My ultimate multitask has to be reading a book while doing a feed.

I’m reading two books at the moment – Michael J Fox’s autobiography and ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn.  They are two totally different styles and even their format is different, one a paperback and one an ibook. The Fox book was bought for me as a Christmas present by the other half.  He knows I had a big crush on the guy when I was in my teens; posters on the wall, obsession with Back to the Future, dreaming about marrying Michael – all the usual teenage angst stuff.  However, when I grew to be taller than him I fell out of love with him (and moved on to Matthew Broderick I think).  The other book was bought for the plane back in October when we went to America, but as I didn’t read anywhere as many books on that holiday as usual it didn’t get touched.

I’ll review both when I have finished them but my question here is more about – how do you cope with reading two books at one time and really enjoy either of them.   I’ve done it before but not to this extent.  The Fox book is my wind down before I go to bed, as it is impossible to hold a paperback open when you have a small person on your other arm.  However, once we got past the early stuff and into the Hollywood stuff that interests me, I don’t always go to bed as early as I should!  The ‘Gone Girl’ is good for flipping though on a back-lit screen in the early hours as it doesn’t disturb someone and the pages stay flat.  I’m have to admit I’m struggling to remember what happened last time with the ‘Girl’ book but now I am trying to read it every night that helps.

I think it is possible to read two at once, especially if they reflect where you are at that time.  Also, doing a fiction then non-fiction must be the best way as you aren’t trying to keep up with two complex story lines.  It might be harder with two twisting murder mysteries for example, though I am sure as I come to the end of the fiction book I might need to just read it to really get the whole story (though we know I hate endings).

What examples have you of successfully multitasking books, and why have you done it?

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Silly promotional ideas

NolanParker in LegoPhil: On Tuesday, Candice mentioned that the Lego Movie is whopping the backside of the latest vampire film and this gave me an idea.

We’re trying to think of promotional tricks to raise our profiles ahead of firing stuff at publishers and agents. If you are famous in some way, getting in to print is a heck of a lot easier.

While Mrs Marketing Brain is working, I’ve also been pondering some ideas. Since I know nothing about the “correct” way of doing this, I’m thinking of silly things. The first of these was to film some of our book using the ever popular plastic bricks.

Technically, this is easy. I made my first stop-frame animation film when I was 9, on proper Super 8 film, none of this computer stuff. I learned a lot, especially that it’s a good idea to come up with the story before you start filming, not half way through a ruinously expensive roll of film. Even some serious editing didn’t entirely hide this but I did my best.

Nowadays, the process involves a still digital camera and dropping the frames in to some software that plays them one after another. Editing doesn’t involve cutting strips of film up and sticking them back together with lovely smelling film cement, just dragging and dropping scenes around the timeline.

A bigger problem is that our book opens with a woman crawling along a slippery roof and trying to communicate with a man dressed in a cabbage costume. Lego may be wonderful stuff but as far as I know, they don’t make any vegetable shaped figures. As a Lego traditionalist, I refuse to acknowledge the existence of green blocks to make my own either. Even if I did, he’d be much bigger than the lead player so it would look all wrong.

Worse, she is wearing designer gear and Lego definitely don’t do that. Using the Minifig creator, I did my best to make miniatures of us and while I’m wearing jeans as usual, efforts to make plastic Candice fashionable failed utterly, hence the gym bunny gear.

BillySLegoAnyway, would a Lego version of our book, even if it went viral, sell it to the intended market? Probably not.

More thinking required obviously.

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Has the world moved on?

Vampire Academy

Candice : As with most things in life us humans are fickle creatures.  One year we all love ‘Sex and the city’ which spawns a load of copy cats, then its ‘Bridget jones’ style female dramas. Note these are both based on books or written medium.

Well the one that really took off a few years ago was Vampires. The Twilight Saga spawned a range of films, TV shows and even music styles around the idea.  Vampires being glamorous is not a new story but this many makes you wonder if there are any out there (and if they don’t need sleep can they do the night feed for me..).  But as we all of things they fade.  My sister and I read all the Twilight books, though by book 4 I was struggling.  And with the films we only saw the first half of the two made from the last book…boring.
Well it seems the bottom may have dropped out of this market too as the BBC reports that ‘Vampire Academy’ the newly released film base on a series of books (which sound like Vampire plus Hogwarts) “Teen film Vampire Academy opened poorly in seventh place with a first weekend tally of $4.1m (£2.5m).”  What has beaten this film at the top spot… ‘The Lego movie’  anyone any idea what that is about?


  1. Books do work as bases for films – you bring with you a guaranteed audience
  2. Depending on how you bend the story it can impact on your reviews and word of mouth – removing characters or heavily changed storylines do not please the punters
  3. Get in early – don’t wait five years to add your book or film to the pot as you’ll be lagging behind on the income stakes (and you’ll only get one made)
  4. Film in NZ with Peter Jackson and you can do whatever you please
  5. Use plastic characters voiced by Will Ferrell

I am opting, when we get to that point of filming, for moving our book to Auckland and bringing in some smaller members of staff at the company to help sell the premise…


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A big blow

No entryPhil: After our excellent Monday cake and planning session, I am armed with the three chapters and a finely honed query letter ready to do battle with the literary establishment. A shiny laser printer awaits to print our efforts in the best possible quality.

So, I am left to decide which lucky publisher will be first to get their hands on our potential best-seller. By mutual agreement, we’ll start with Tindal Street Press in Birmingham. They are a Brummie based publisher and so more likely to be open to a story set outside the capital. Their raison d’etre is “to find writers of national and international significance from places other than London and the South East – where nearly all of the English publishing industry is based” which sounds promising. More importantly, they were the only ones who commented on our previous submission, a comment about us being able to write in our chosen genre that dealt us a great dollop of encouragement.

Thinking I better check how they like to receive submissions, I check the website and find this:

Tindal Street Press are no longer accepting submissions for publication. If you have recently submitted to us, we are very sorry to say that we are no longer able to consider your manuscript. We wish you the best of luck elsewhere.


Checking the rest of the site, it seems that Tindal Street Press is part-funded by Arts Council England and Birmingham City Council who presumably have other things to spend money on now. It was taken over in 2012 by Profile Books Ltd who only accept submissions via literary agents.

There is some irony in our path to publishing being hampered by the same recession that got us writing in the first place.

Oh well, I better break out the Writers and Artists Yearbook, buy some cake (not the “Contemporary Cakes” from the Co-op as these were too stodgy) and see if Candice can find some time in her schedule for us to plan our campaign.

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Just like old times

Candice: Phil came over today to play another round of ‘lets get this bloody thing out there’.  I was some what occupied as her ladyship was playing up so it was hard to get down to some real work but it did have moments were it felt like old times:

a) there was cake – though we both struggled at it was a bit stodgy so not like the hey day of Fallen Angel cupcakes

b) there was tea – again it wasn’t quite as good and cups were boring but it tasted alright

c) there was conversation about the book – where we worked out we must have started on it 3 1/2 years ago! That is quite frightening but you can see how times flies with these things.

We rehashed the query letter for the umpteenth time but I think we now both feel its got that extra punch to get us noticed (I ruddy hope so).  It’s amazing how you can get bogged down by the use of the word ‘plus’ but we got there in the end.  It’s so nice to be working on something that makes my brain tick over and gets my creative juices flowing.  We’ve also had a go at the first three chapters again, and we really think they are strong contenders to get us a bite.

We talked about putting them up here once the query letters are out to see what you think.  And then may be there might be some time for writing book 2 – though ideally we’d have the time we had originally where we worked on writing everyday and sat opposite each other to get those ideas flowing… and we got paid for it.  But unless anyone knows of a nice government entity that needs some contractors to do nothing and still get paid that’s not going to happen.  Some how I want to find that window of opportunity again because it was so great, to feel so excited everyday to see what Phil had written and where it took us on the path, and to disappear into that other world regularly where I could live and breathe my characters.

Phil thinks we should be out doing some publicity again, he suggested ‘Dragon’s Den’ but it wasn’t sure I could answer the question about our P&L.  But then I did mention Bargain Hunt or other day time crap that I have been watching, that could be a start.  We decided we need to take a leaf out of Polly Courtney’s book as she is the go to girl on all things women in business, what can we specialise in to get in Grazia? (Phil did mention she is quite photogenic too which helps!).  I don’t know yet but I am working on it.

Watch this space for news on our submissions… oh I am excited!


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