Monthly Archives: April 2014

Michael Rosen talks English

Phil: It’s Stratford Literary Festival time again and I’m off on a solo trip to see an event because someone else is away on holiday (also why I’m writing the Tuesday blog post but I don’t mind). Looking at the listing I decided it would be interesting to see Michael Rosen.

Many will know Rosen from his role as Children’s laureate, a post he held from 2007 to 2009. Parents will probably know We’re Going On A Bear Hunt as it’s a notorious bedtime story book that children love to hear time and again until the reader can recite the story from memory. After this, it’s told through gritted teeth.

I’ve only read one book he has authored, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book , in which he describes how his son, Eddie, died of meningitis aged 19. It’s a book for children that talks about loss, sadness and the feelings around grief. I’ll be honest, I spotted the book displayed in the foyer of my local library and read it sat inside. It’s not a long book and as befits something written with children in mind there are lots of illustrations by Quentin Blake. Despite all this, it is a fascinating read, one of the reasons I thought the evening would be interesting.

All started well with a pun:

Q – Which are the most jealous letters in the alphabet?

A – NV (Audience laughs)

You see, it wasn’t Rosen the author we had on stage. It was Rosen the presenter of Radio 4’s Word of Mouth, a programme devoted to words, where they come from and how we use them.

You might think this sounds a bit dull. I’m not sure if all of the audience were ready for this as book festival crowds can be a bit star struck, but there were certainly loads of erudite members who thoroughly enjoyed themselves. To be honest, if you have an interest in language or writing, you couldn’t fail to be. It was a very entertaining show.

Nothing illustrates this better than the move from talk to Q&A half an hour in. This is a brave move, especially with a slightly academic subject. Needless to say the crowd were up for it. Most were so excited they couldn’t even wait for the roving microphone before bellowing their question. We over-ran too. The “final” quick question was, “When did the vowel shift take place and why?” – the questioner obviously being unaware of the meaning of “quick”. It wasn’t even the last as someone yelled out another final question, which our host couldn’t answer. In the end the organiser had to leap on stage and wrestle Rosen off so they could clear the hall in time for the next event.

If I’m honest, this wasn’t what I was expecting. If I’d realised, my enthusiasm would have been dampened by memories of Bill Bryson’s books covering similar ground which are the only ones in his repertoire I’ve never been able to wade through. Here though, we had a topic covered amusingly by an author who can communicate brilliantly. Rosen has strong views on education, Mikey Gove’s name popped up a couple of times and he deliberately declined to take the talk in that direction, on this evidence he probably has much to say. If my English teachers had been half as interesting when I was at school, perhaps I’d be a great writer now.

Oh. Hold on…

Visit Michael Rosen’s Website.

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Happy Birthday Billy. I’m not going to read your stuff.

BillySPhil: Living so close to Stratford-upon-Avon, we are both pretty well versed in William Shakespeare. There have been occasional lunchtime meet-ups opposite the birthplace trust. If we put down our over-priced paninis and peered over the crowds of tourists, we could see the place the great man was born. Inspiring or what.

Next week, we’ll be doing the literary thing ourselves by enjoying several events as part of the annual festival. You can tell the ones we’re going to, cake is included in the ticket price.

Anyway, yesterday was his 450th birthday and as you can imagine, the world has gone literary mad. There are people quoting him all over the news. Poor Yorick, that fellow of infinite jest, is being alas’ed by thespians waving skulls around. Kingdoms are being offered for horses and there are more than 2 be’s floating around, or maybe there aren’t 2 b’s…

I’m sure there is someone thundering about a lack of Shakespeare on the school syllabus and demanding that children should be forced to read all his great works.  Here, I beg to differ. Not because the thundering will be from the sort of rent-a-quote idiot who local TV producers seem to be able to produce at a moments notice. No. It’s because they are, for the most part, wrong.

A Shakespeare play is just that – a play.

I’ve enjoyed a few nights watching the great man’s work performed. The plots are a bit duff in some cases (an identical brother and sister?) but generally the comedies at least are good fun. But only when seen on stage performed well. You need to give it a few minutes to tune in to the language but I defy anyone not to find at least some of A Midsummer Night’s Dream funny.

(Be you new to the bard on stage, I suggest that if in Stratford go for the Swan Theatre rather than the main auditorium, if elsewhere, try to catch the Oddsocks Theatre Company performing something as it’s always brilliant and often outside so you can take a picnic.)

Reading the stuff on the page sucks the life out of it. These weren’t written as great literature. Those who treat them this way forget that they were originally performed to the sort of people who would now enjoy Eastenders or Coronation Street. They were entertainment.

The moral – plays and books are different things. When it comes time to turn our book in to a blockbuster film, we’ll do rather more than hand copies to the actors and tell them to read it out.

Update: I wrote this yesterday, but in the news today, Dame Helen Mirren agrees with me, and you don’t mess with the Mirren.

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We’ve got it covered

2229211Candice: Phil and I have had many conversations about book covers along the way.  Nine times out of ten he goes off and does something amazing with a computer, some models and his camera and comes up with more ideas.  However, we are now in discussions with our interesting book project (more to be revealed soon) and they have asked us about a cover.

We’ve been touting around one or two options for the last year and discussed how other’s book cover styles influence how readers perceive their books. But now we have the challenge ourselves.

I’m not going to go into detail on what we have been doing at the moment, but the process has made me think about how covers can date your book.  I’ve just finished reading ‘Ten steps to happiness’ by Daisy Waugh.  It’s totally different from the other books of hers I have read – Last Dance with Valentino still goes down as my favourite.  But its more in mine and Phil’s style, a romping good bit of rom com fun.  The premise is a PR guru, Jo, who has left her London contacts and set up with her husband in his crumbling pile in the country.  To save the house and farm they create a refuge from the media for disgraced celebs .  It romps though issues with the council and an underhand MP who is trying to get his hands on the house and one of the celebs to hide his true tendencies, to a satisfying conclusion.

However, the one thing I note with the front cover is the picture of a mobile phone.  It’s a Nokia from the days when everything was mono and you only had 140 characters in a text.  The book was printed in 2003.  Alongside this I went to a brand presentation last week from an ad agency, and the one thing the guy said when talking about using images in a campaign is ‘DONT USE MOBILE PHONES, THEY DATE.’  Looking back it’s so obvious, but back in the early 2000’s we probably though that was as good as mobile was going to get, not knowing about 4G and iPhones on the horizon.

So, note to Phil and I while we still explore ideas – don’t put something on the cover that will date the book.


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Magazines: Paper vs Digital – Fight!

BRMsPhil:  On a whim last week, I bought the electronic copy of the magazine I write for. The paper copy would eventually appear in the post but the digital version comes out a few days before this and I was curious to know how some of the articles I’d written appeared on the page. There was also a bit of extra content to be seen electronically and I was really interested in comparing the two versions.

Delivered via the PocketMags website, downloading the digital version takes around a minute over broadband and WiFi. Cost is £2.99 compared to £3.75 for print. I’ve loaded my copy on to an Asus 7 inch tablet computer although I understand I can log on to the site and see the issues I’ve bought on any device. The copy seems sit on the tablet as I was still able to read it when disconnected from WiFi.

The pages appear exactly the same as they do on paper. Swiping left and right moves you through the issue. Touching the bottom of the screen shows a ribbon of thumbnails for faster racing around. Pinching the page zooms in in the same way as it does on all other Apps.

Enhanced content includes a couple of videos, photo galleries and captions that are called up by pressing an “i” button on the image. Not sure about the later one but I suppose it leaves the pictures clearer of text.

So, am I convinced to go digital?


One of the problems is that when looking at magazines, size matters. My tablet is about 2/3rd the size of the A4 printed page. Reading the mag involves squinting or zooming on the page. Maybe if I was using a 10 inch iPad or even a proper computer screen, this wouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, the iPad is heavy to hold for long periods and the PC screen means sitting at a desk.

Discussing this in the office, we also feel that readers engage with the content differently on-screen. They treat it like a web page and scan the words rather than reading them. It’s a less immersive experience perhaps, or just this is how people have learned to deal with screen based information. Plenty of useability studies tell us this is how web pages are consumed, hence the instruction to include plenty of keywords in text to catch the reader’s eye. You might think that when reading a publication, readers might behave differently but this appears not to be the case. I suspect this might be related to the size issue. If reading takes effort, they you’ll skim the content.

Of course, if you don’t want to read but just look at pictures then the tablet is good. Zooming in to the detail is easy. OK, in print the pics are bigger and I suppose in the analogue world you can use a magnifying glass but that’s not convenient and anyway, eventually you start seeing how the picture is printed and not the pic itself. Our photographer reckons the reproduction on the page is darker than the electronic version although this is a reproduction issue and not a deliberate choice, nor is it necessarily a bad thing as some readers comment they prefer darker photos.

Another thought is that a lot of the magazine involves “how to” articles with step-by-step information for readers to follow. That’s the bit I write and I’m not convinced that reader want to take a pricy tablet near some of the plaster, paint and glues I use in the articles. Paper magazines are far more resilient in this respect. At least if you glue the pages together , you can buy another copy from Smiths, “I dropped it in some plaster and not it’s stopped working.” isn’t likely to garner you much sympathy in your local electronics shop.

All of this is moot. While the digital edition sells well, the paper one sells better. All expectations are that this will be the case for over a decade so the presses will continue to roll. Mind you, predicting the future is difficult…

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Watching through my fingers?

 Candice: I’m off to the cinema on Thursday night to see the Quiet Ones.  Though having just watched the trailer I think I’ve changed my mind!  Why am I going to see it you ask, well I’m in it!  Somewhere in there is a piece about Druids, and I am one of them.  Though I doubt you’ll be able to see me as I had cloak and big hood.

The funny thing is I like horror books.  I used to devour Stephen King and James Herbert when I was growing up.  But I can’t stand horror films.  I think when I read it, even though my imagination runs wild with what is happening in the book, I can turn it off.  With a film its too real and graphic, meaning I can’t escape it.

I can distinctly remember watching some of the Friday the 13th films as a teenager, lights off, boys and girls on different sides of the room trying not to act scared or be the first to jump.  Off course it was a perfect opportunity for one of the boys to sneak up on a girl they liked, scare her and then give her a hug afterwards.  The next thing you know they’d be snogging!

I have actually written some good horror style short stories funnily enough, there are some on this blog if you look, but I dont think I’d write a whole book.  Well if they made a film of it, I wouldn’t be able to watch.

So wish me luck on Thursday and hope I don’t have nightmares!


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A positive rejection

Reading[Day12]*Phil: I’ve been back on the query letter treadmill recently.

There has been much trawling through the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook looking for agents who aren’t based in London. We’ve nothing against an agent residing in the capital it’s just that we think they may prefer authors from within the M25 and that isn’t us. If anyone wants to prove me wrong, feel free, but when faced with many pages of potential contacts, you’ve got to reduce the list somehow.

Anyway, last Saturday I e-mailed off another query complete with letter and fully proof-read first 3 chapters. Later on, while checking my phone in the pub (I was waiting for my mate to come back with his round and looking at your phone says, “I’m not a weirdo loitering for no reason” to anyone who looks your way. Or at least most blokes think it does.) I spotted a reply.

Sadly, the reply was a rejection, but a good one.

This looks a good read. Sadly, it wouldn’t be quite right for our contacts.

A good read.

She thinks it looks like A Good Read.

That’s brilliant!

All we have even wanted to do is write a good read. We’ve never claimed to be knocking out the sort of complicated literary stuff that gets the hard-core critic excited. We just want to entertain a few people. People who might be sitting beside a pool somewhere or curled up on a sofa with a steaming mug of tea and a slice of cake.

It’s important to remain positive as you struggle towards being published, so we’ll take this little morsel and thank the kind person who made both of our days.

Now, if we can just find someone who thinks the same thing AND has suitable contacts…


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Everyone is allowed an opinion, aren’t they?

Candice: If I’d written this post yesterday there would be a lot of expletives.  I was fuming from being bitch slapped by the breastfeeding mom nazis.  (That’s the polite version on my feelings)

I won’t go into detail but I now have an insight into why Daisy Waugh wrote the book I am currently dipping into, the one that Phil managed to get a signed copy for me.  It’s called – ‘ I don’t know why she bothers’.  I gave an opinion on something, advice I’d been passed by another mother and was pretty much told I was a bad mother for saying it.

I’m not going to review it now as I haven’t read it all yet.  I’m dipping into sections as I come across them with Erin’s development so I’ll be reading it for years.

But that, and the situation yesterday, made me think.  I, unfortunately, can come across as bossy and a bit of a know it all when it comes to life.  I’ve done a few things, travelled to a few places and have some life experience.  So when someone offers something I can add an opinion to, I often do.  However, this has caught me out a few times as people take offence and think I am trying to teach them something, though I am only trying to help.

Sometimes I just wish I could shut my trap, but I can’t help it when I see people who are in the wrong, be that driving in the middle lane of the motorway, queue jumping in a shop or making life hard for themselves as the world has convinced them that it makes them a bad mom to do it any other way.  My other half is worse on the driving gesticulation front though!

Phil and I have been to numerous events over the years about how to write.  They have been informative, useful and generally given us a few pointers (and helped us pick up some writing buddies) but they don’t have the panacea for getting that book published.

Just yesterday we got some positive feedback on the book, but in a rejection email, so we are still plugging away at it like everyone else.  But we’d like to think that a few pointers here and there can help along the way.

But I think sometimes people take everything they read on the web as gospel.  The internet can be extremely helpful but also your worst enemy, whether you are looking for ways to make a six-week old baby sleep, or ways to get your book published.  Too much information!

So I hope you like our musing on the blog but people, don’t feel that this is the be all and end all.  And when we do get published, certainly buy our books and attend our events when we talk about how to get published, but don’t forget to do it your own way.

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Why writers are always broke

Piggy Bank with CoinsPhil: One message that is thrown at wannabee writers time and again is that you aren’t going to become rich. For every Rowling, Brown or Archer, there are hundreds of people hammering away at keyboards earning less than someone stacking shelves in a supermarket or flipping burgers.

The average novelist will earn around £5000 per year. Worse, 10% of writers bag %50 of all the income going. And this is for those who manage to jump through every hoop on the way to being published in the “normal” manner. Most aspiring writers see no reward for their efforts.

If you want to get paid, don’t write novels. Radio and TV pay £50 – £100 per minute, but that’s per minute of broadcast, no matter how long you took to concoct the stuff. It’s not an easy world to break in to either.

Heading out to one of the many on-line opportunities isn’t going to work any better. I recently saw one “opportunity” where applicants were asked to summarise either Guantanamo Closing, Bitcoin or the Syrian conflict in 100 words. These would be submitted to the website and if accepted (you are competing against all the other applicants) you will be paid the grand total of $10. That’s just over 6 quid for researching a complex subject and boiling it down to 100 words.

In their defence, the people offering the gig say that once accepted you’ll receive other assignments and that a good writer should be able to knock out 3 of these an hour and $30 or £21 an hour isn’t bad. Mind you, if you can research a complex subject and distil the important points into a few lines accurately and consistently in 20 minutes and keep doing this for 8 hours a day, I suggest that you either deserve to earn more or you’ll go bonkers within a couple of days.

Truth is, a lot of on-line writing involves the CTRL+C and CTRL+V keys more than anything elses. Cut and paste text from other on-line sources, smooth out the worst of the reading bumps and spit it out on to a new website. Content Mills as they are called, pay people in third world countries to do this all day on what we would consider a pittance and what I suspect they consider a poor wage for a job that attracts those with decent educations by dangling an opportunity that looks more promising than it turns out to be. All this to produce “articles” designed to attract the attention of search engines so visitors are dropped off at the website where they might buy something, or at least look at the advertising.

No, if you want to write, then you better be doing it for the love of it. Candice and I have already had this conversation as we look at a few publishing options. Both of us will be chuffed if we eventually make a single sale out of this. If one person who we don’t know choses to buy our book in the future, then that has to be success. Should we make a few quid, that’s a bonus. Were we to find ourselves with a best-selling series and fantastic wealth then we’ll not be complaining.

For the moment though, neither of us is giving up the day job.


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Are we going backwards?


Candice: I read with interest on yesterday’s BBC website news that the previous owner of Waterstones believes that ebooks are already in decline.

I’ve previously written about how I am not sure about the whole e-reader thing.  I go as far as to buy books to read on my iPad but I still prefer the physical item than a tablet. So whats in it for Tim Waterstone, especially as he doesn’t even own the shop any more? To quote Tim, “E-books have developed a share of the market, of course they have,” he said. “But every indication – certainly from America – shows the share is already in decline. The indications are that it will do exactly the same in the UK.”

According to Tim the physical nature of a book is so rooted in our psyche that we will struggle as people to all adopt the new technology.  Now I’m not sure about this as we all survived without mobile phones a few years ago but now you can’t move for people playing with them like they are an umbilical cord.  In fact, I watched ‘One born every minute’ tonight for the first time ever (thank god I didn’t watch it before I had Erin) and  the first thing everyone did after giving birth was pick up the phone.

I also don’t disagree with him as I like a book to hold and feel but I am not sure the march of technology will stop just because the man who had a book shop says so.  I think its more important that we actually save the idea of reading as a whole rather than the format, I don’t care where people get their writing fix from as long as they continue to do it.




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