Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Target by David Baldacci

Candice: I have just finished this book by David Baldacci.  I’ve read a few of his over the years after picking up ‘Last Man Standing’ in a charity shop and thinking ‘I like this’. So when I saw this and fancied something to read I snapped it up.

The problem these days is he’s written a lot of books and he actually has a number of series running with different characters, so dipping into this one I realised after a while I probably needed to read some of the other books about these characters to really understand their story. I wouldn’t say it was totally detrimental to the book but it didn’t help.

The premise of this one is around two special forces American government operatives whose job is to go in and sort out the jobs that no one else will do.  Will Robie and Jessica Reel are there to do the messy jobs, and every job they do they may or may not return from.  It seems that they met on a previous job where Will saved Jessica’s life, and through out the book there is a current of potential love interest between the two.

The interesting thing about the book is that, there is one story that runs through out around a plan to over throw the Korean government, but instead it building to one big event they are sent to save the day, do it, come back and then are sent to save the day again.  So I got a bit confused as I thought, oh that’s the end, oh but it’s not as there are more pages in the book. It felt like I was reading a collection of short stories instead of one book, which meant I didn’t really connect with it as well as lots of small peaks before a big finish. I think one of the reviews of this book says its like Mission Impossible, and I think that sums it up well.  There are so many big flourishes and places where they nearly die and then are saved. Its like he sat down and had so many ideas he decided to shoe horn them into one book rather than save them for another.

Again, it probably would have helped if this had been read while lying on a sunlounger so I could get into it all in one go, rather than in small chunks so I lost the plot along the way.

I shall go back to Mr Baldacci but probably a different series as if this is his style for these characters, its not my cup of tea.

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My Dopamine addiction

Phil: Last week I mentioned that I need a combination of Smarties and an iPod to kick-start my creativity. Despite having the second of these over the weekend, my progress towards hitting a couple of deadlines was laughable. I sat at the computer but seemed to be in full-on procrastination mode.

It seems that this isn’t entirely my fault. Biology is working against me.

Awaiting the arrival of a man to service my car yesterday, I was listening to something on Radio 4 and there was a man who had written a book about brain science talking about dopamine.

Now, perhaps sitting outside a shuttered garage in Leamington’s Car Quarter isn’t the best place to learn science, but my understanding of his theory is as follows:

Every time we find out something new, our brains get a little shot of dopamine. This is a pleasure chemical and makes us feel good.

The web is full of new things – e-mails, posts on Facebook, Tweets and pictures of cats. Each time we see a new one, the old dopamine shot kicks in.

Once we have a shot, we want more and the easiest way to get more is to spend time refreshing the e-mail, looking at Facebook and Twitter or digging out more pictures of cats. Doing proper work doesn’t give the same kick so even with serious self control, you find it hard not to do the things that provide the “high”.

The effects are reduced when the subject is in a stimulating environment.

All this explains why, when I’m really engaged in a project, I’ll work all hour on it. Give me some mundane stuff to do and I’ll hammer FaceTwitter every 10 minutes. It’s not my fault – evolution forced me to do it by rewarding learning.

Sadly, the garage opened up before I found out what I should do to solve this problem, so if anyone has any suggestions, I still have some deadlines looming…

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This was supposed to be easy

Candice : Phil suggested the other week that we swap days over for our blog posts.  Since day one I’ve done Tuesday and he Thursday, with an occasional blip for holidays or busy times at work.

I said OK, I’ll give it a go on Monday.  Then I got to Monday night and it felt really odd that I wasn’t jumping on to the PC at 10pm to draft something from whatever was floating around in my brain to be posted the next morning.

Now, it’s Wednesday evening and I am really confused as I was about to turn off my computer and realised – I need to write my blog post.

To be honest my brain is mashed.  I’ve had a full on day working through an extensive to do list and then I’m off to pick up my daughter before heading to the gym, when the other half comes home, to burn off some of the crap I have been eating recently (I hate the short days and dark in the morning and evening). What do you mean I need to think!

But think I will and I’m sure this will soon become second nature to me.  He tells me its easier to write the Thursday post as you can reply to the Tuesday one.  Well all I can see there is even more need to hit the gym 🙂 and a lack of cake!

So this is my first try, lets see what can pop into my head next week.

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Brain food

Brain foodPhil: OK, so I have a laptop and a nice warm library to work in. All I need to do now is sit down and get some writing done.

To keep my mental faculties working, obviously there is a need for some sustenance. Science will tell you that oily fish is the food of choice, but apart from being slippery and disgusting, oily fish scales will do nothing for the keyboard on my computer. Anyway, I’m sure it’s against the library rules to munch on a mackerel while sat at one of their nice tables.

No, like all sensible people, I need chocolate.

First choice were Munchies. Lovely choccy wrapped around some biscuit and caramel. One of my favourites which is why it didn’t work. Five minutes and not nearly enough typing later and I owned an empty wrapper.

There is precedent for this. In Finland, drivers carry a can of dog food in the car. That way, if they get stuck in the snow, they won’t starve. Canine canned consumables work best as you aren’t likely to eat it unless it’s a real emergency.

It isn’t an emergency, so I’ve gone for Smarties.

Smarties are clean and tidy but if you let them melt on the tongue, last at least a page and a half of top quality humorous prose. They don’t melt when carried to the library in a pocket and won’t make a mess of my keyboard. I can pretend that different colours have different effects – green for comedy, red for thrills, pink for romantic stuff etc.

Smarties, Library, something to drink. Perfect.

Oh, hold on. I can’t concentrate.

The other part of the equation is an iPod (other portable music players are available but some of them are terrible, I’m looking at you iRiver). If I need to get a lot done on the computer, I need to be wearing headphones.

I love listening to the radio. Being the sort of person who finds silence stupefying, my life operates to the soundtrack of Radio 2, Radio 4 or Manx FM. However, for real productivity, even this isn’t enough, I need uninterrupted music and preferably music I’ve heard before, like but won’t listen properly to.

This is partly why when you see NolanParker working together, we’re both earphone’d up. Chat is saved for the pre and post writing cake sessions.

So, Smarties, Library, something to drink, iPod. Productivity beckons.


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Help needed

Candice:  Now Phil and I are on the road to write Book Two it seems we have come up against some problems.  Nothing unsolvable, like writers block for example, just lack of knowledge in some of the areas we are writing about. In fact, the one thing we don’t have is writers block, the issue is more having the time to get all the ideas down!

As a reminder, our books feature the crew from KOD, a Management consultancy who specialise in managing big changes in companies.  Book one centres around the close down of a Government run scientific research centre.  Now, Phil has special experience in this area, having worked for one many years ago.  His knowledge of brussel sprouts and scientists is possibly encyclopedic.

My area of specialism is the love story in the book between Kate, KOD’s second in command, and Dave, the man she loved back at University who has reappeared in her life. Now, I have quite a lot of experience in this area 🙂 so that’s not a problem!

However, we have embarked on Book Two and Phil has decided to write about all things MOD (Ministry of Defence).  I won’t give too much away but there will be ships and quite possibly a reference to Die Hard.  Now, again he has some knowledge in this area having a friend who has worked in the industry, and having visited some MOD sites but… we really want to know the truth about these places.

One of my bugbears is reading a book and sitting there thinking ‘that wouldn’t happen’ or ‘that’s not true’.  It doesn’t have to be exact as not everyone will have worked in an MOD building but some truth in the fiction would be good.

Phil has already written a cracking piece on the use of toilets as shelters in case of an attack – true apparently, but we need more.

So, readers, do you work in an MOD building, or know someone who does.  What are the idiosyncrasies of working in this environment, from security checks to the colours on the walls?  Any really good stories may get used in the book, and in return we’ll give you a credit.  Give us a really good, true, story and we might even use your name for one of the characters.

So, can you help?

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Led astray by a young woman

Birthday CakePhil: You know how it is. Settle down at the computer looking forward to an enjoyable browse of a few blogs. First up will be your own as your co-writer will have posted her latest comments. It’s an interesting post with a nice picture of some cake at the top. Reaching the bottom you read,

“Phil doesn’t know this yet, but I want the 80,000 word first draft of Book Two done by June”


Later in the day I met up with la Nolan in the Dorridge branch of a coffee chain. We hid at the back of the shop with our drinks and her toasted sandwich.

“Are you nuts?”, I enquire, “Finish Book 2 by the end of June? We’ve hardly started!”

“Would you like some birthday cake?” she purrs, pushing a small sliver of Hello Kitty cake in my direction while the proprietors weren’t looking.

“OK. Mmmm. Nice cake.”

And we chatted about children’s parties and stuff.

When the sugar rush wore off.

“The end of June? Are you crazy?”

“Have another slice of cake.”

“OK” Munch, munch munch…

Somewhere along the way, it seems I agreed that this deadline was a good idea. In my defence I could say I was led astray by a young woman (you read about it in the newspapers all the time) but in truth we really do need to get going and write this thing – the deadline gives us something to aim at.

5 years ago, Book 1 slowly emerged on the page thanks to a General Election providing us both with the inspiration and unexpected time to do some writing. Life has got in the way a bit since then but now it’s time to crack on and stop gassing.

That afternoon, I wrote the chapter setting up the non-romantic bit of the story.

So we can’t forget the deadline, I’ve put a counter in the sidebar of this blog. Every time we look at it we’ll be reminded how little time is left and you can chide us if we miss the target.


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I have a cunning plan…

Cheesecake selectionCandice: I had an abundance of things to write about in this blog post.

Eating – as over Christmas this has been high on the agenda. I’ve already talked about the fact there are only so many times you can have Quality Street for Breakfast and not feel the effects. I know its gone too far when the box of Lindor I have in the fridge, something I really like, is actually making feel a bit sick when I just open the door and look at it.

Erin – well its been a whole year since she joined us and lots of things have changed, I’ve changed and it makes you think.

But actually this year is all about finally getting the book out there. Having someone interested in publishing it had galvanised Phil and I to start working on book number two. We met the other day and once food and very nice dessert was out of the way (and I got Phil to stop gassing and get on with the writing :)) we found time to roll out some new words. And the words were good. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get back on the iPad and get on with finishing the section I started but it has been floating around my head ever since with ideas on how I will finish the scene. Must get down to it soon as the ideas are starting to fade.

What I really liked about this session was, after struggling to find somewhere suitable to sit in the whole of Leamington, and having to buy a new pair of shoes to make up for this stress, Phil and I looked at the storyline planning chart we’d done the other week, picked a section that each of us would write, and got on with it. Just by looking at the sentence ‘Kate needs to explain why still at KOD’, plus the discussion we had about her relationship with the love interest Dave, my brain was off crafting a scene. I can literally see it in my head, right down to her outfit, the people she is going to meet and everything.

So I’m going to find the time to finish this section and many more and I have set us a challenge. Phil doesn’t know this yet, but I want the 80,000 word first draft of Book Two done by June. I think that is totally feasible and I don’t work well without a deadline so that’s me drawing my line in the sand. In the mean time Book One will be out there (we hope) and our followers will be clammering for more…. What did he say about buying things on sales proceeds?


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Write while you remember

Post ItPhil: Two months!

It’s been two whole months since we sat down and planned Book 2. Since then we’ve had Christmas and New Year and all sorts of other really wild stuff. Now I find myself sitting down to turn the pile of Post-It notes in to a proper list of scenes in a whacking great spreadsheet that we can work from, and struggling to figure out what we were thinking when they were written.

Obviously I’m not a complete blank, the basic plot is rattling around the back of my head. Some notes though are throwing me. Candice has written that she likes the film Titanic for example.

Really? I can’t see that being her sort of flick. More to the point, why do I care, other than worrying about my friend’s taste in movies, in context of the book?

I’m sure there is a good reason for this but even more sure that if I’d done this job 60 days ago, it would have been a whole lot easier…

Moral: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. You’ll probably have forgotten what it was if you do!


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Reading Resolution

Book PilePhil: The first post of the year is traditionally filled with the bloggers good intentions in the form of New Years resolutions. Why should I buck the trend?

In the past, mention of the new year on this blog has involved saying we will both write more. Let’s face it, that’s what every aspiring novelist says and if they manage to stick to this then it’s one big step towards losing the tag “aspiring”.

I’m feeling a big smug on this point however. Being self-employed and enjoying the sort of flexible lifestyle that allows for a trip to the gym at 8:15am AND working on a project at 10pm, I’m allowed to plan in some novel writing time into the schedule. Wednesday afternoons now involved a trip in to town and a few hours bashing the laptop upstairs in the Library. This is my fiction writing office so no “proper” work is allowed to intrude.

So, if I don’t need to write, what should I resolve?

Not to be published – all being well this is in the process of being sorted out (fingers crossed). Maybe to become as rich as Rowling, Brown and Archer from The Book?

No chance. For a start any income has to be shared with Candice so we’d need to sell twice as many as the others for me to become as rich. On the other hand my idea of a dream car is more Volkswagen than Ferrari so perhaps this isn’t such an issue. It’s not me with the expensive handbag habit!

Maybe I should resolve to make progress on Book 2, but even that is looking promising. We have a plan and at the moment, it looks like words will be written.

No, what I need to do is not write more, but read more.

The stack of books beside my bed has grown over the festive period thanks to a few presents. Since the givers have insisted that they want to read their presents after me, there will be pressure to get a move on too.

My problem is I tend to check e-mail and web stuff on a tablet PC and this has eaten some or all of my reading time. This isn’t deliberate, it just sort of happened. I like reading books. I know reading before sleep is better for me. Proper science studies have shown that this is true too. It’s a routine I need to get back in to.

So: In 2015 I will read more. I’ll tell you this time next year if I managed it. From my private island bought from book sales.

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