Monthly Archives: April 2015

Stratford Literary Festival: Discover New Writers

Festival CakePhil: Stratford Literary Festival is upon us again and looking through the guide, we spotted a few sessions that appealed to the Nolanparker team.

First up was a solo trip to a “Discover New Writers” event for me. Unaccountably, Candice wasn’t able to skive off work on a Wednesday afternoon. This seemed unfair, so I helpfully texted her a picture of the really excellent tea and large slice of delicious cake I enjoyed while waiting for it to start. I’m sure she enjoyed that as much as I did.

The new writers to be discovered were:

Paula Coston – Her book “On the far side” must have required one of the most difficult elevator pitches ever. It revolves around an Englishwoman seeking out a Sinhala boy in Sri Lanka who she sponsors in lieu of having had children herself. There are many themes running through the book with the civil war and it’s settlement being juxtapositioned with the main characters feelings on childlessness.

If I’m honest, I got a bit lost myself with the description but when Paula read from the text, I could see how it would be interesting to watch things develop, the story is partly told in a series of letters between the child and sponsor with the youngster unable to understand how a woman could reach her mid thirties unmarried and unable to understand the importance of cricket.

Charlie Garratt – “A Shadowed Livery” takes a double suicide and murder from Limerick and transplanted it to a little north of where I live in Warwickshire. Set in the last days before the Second World War, it has become a detective novel taking place in a world of political extremism and anti-Semitism.

Rob Sinclair – Strictly speaking, Rob only just squeaked in to this event as his second novel “Rise of the Enemy” was being launched the next day. For those who wanted to be ahead of the game, he’d brought some copies in for sale as well as his debut “Dance with the enemy”. Unlike the others, Rob isn’t (as far as we know) writing from experience as a secret agent or taking inspiration from real events. Instead, he was inspired by dissatisfaction with existing thrillers.

I was keen to talk to Rob as he has self-published his books and learned a lot about the process. We want to pick his brains especially on the publicity front and I’m pleased to say he’s agreed to take part in an interview on this blog in the future so we can all share the experience.

One shock was that he knocks out the first draught of a novel in 2 months – and works part-time as a forensic accountant. Something tells me we need to pull our fingers out!

Paula and Charlie enjoyed a much more traditional route to being published. Paula’s background in publishing was both a help and hindrance in that she endlessly edited the text before sending it off. Both enjoyed quite a bit of support from their publishers, something we are told has vanished in a puff of accountancy but it seems not.

Our small audience enjoyed themselves and the half hour planned session lasted over an hour with plenty of questions afterwards too and (hopefully) some books sold. It was good for the Festival to put this on for free too – how many people will be pleased they were able to make it when some or all of these authors are as big as Brown, Rowling or Archer in the future?

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Man books

MAN BooksPhil: Book 2 calls for two or three sections written in a different style to our normal humorous chick-lit work. The scenes involve some macho action and it seems that since I don’t do the soppy romance stuff, they fall to me.

So, some research was called for. I’m not a proper blokey bloke and had never read one of those books aimed at men with guns and explosions on the front cover. Good grief, the Nolan has me reading chick-lit, so I needed to man up put on my best camo gear and delve in.

A quick dig in the bookshelves of a charity shop saw me furnished with something by Chris Ryan and Tom Wood. Both turned out to be pretty good reads and I flipped through each of them in a few days.

What did I learn?

Books for blokes are just like chick-lit except that instead of brand names being dropped, we have types of gun exploding into the text at regular intervals. In fact, Mr Ryan helpfully includes a list of weapons and a glossary for anyone now familiar with military terms in the front of the book. I referred to it regularly.

The biggest surprise was from “Tenth Man Down” where the subheading is “Who wins, the SAS or the Navy Seals”. There is only one Navy Seal in the story and he rescues the hero before being killed. To make matters worse, the cover shows abseiling from a Chinook helicopter and there’s none of that going on at all.

Another problem I have is that the leads in both books take endless amounts of physical punishment and don’t die. It’s not that I wanted them to peg out, but chapter after chapter of being beaten up, stabbed and even shot and yet they are still able to defeat adversaries far younger, stronger, bigger and fitter.

Did all this help me?

Not much. I know is that I’ll need to look up some of the equipment employed and bang on about it. Makes a change from dropping names from the fashion world.

That, and if you rescue a German woman from a light aircraft crash, she’ll eventually kill you and eat your liver. You never know whan that sort of intel will come in handy.

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By sheer force of will

Henley LunchCandice: People (women mainly, to be honest) often ask me ‘how do you fit it all in?’

By that they mean: working full time, training for a half marathon, writing a blog and a book, etc etc.

My answer is ‘Its a balancing act’. Well, that’s the diplomatic answer to be honest its mainly by sheer force of will!

I’m running my post baby half marathon on Sunday. I was supposed to be running it last October, it was all part of my post Erin recovery plan: have baby, train for half marathon, get back to work. However, after a slow start due to a C Section and then my early return to work, I was starting to get in to the training.

Then I fell over. Short slip up, I thought, but oh no, they found I’d fractured a bone in my leg and all running went out the window. So I picked myself up, literally, and started again in January.

This time though its been another battle: cold weather, sports massages for dodgy quad muscles, chiropractor sessions for misalignment, flu and then this last weekend a bought of stomach bug which meant my last big run went out the window. Add to that the usual issues of new job, more travelling and balancing the child care then even just fitting in all the runs has been hard work. A lot of people would have given up and called it quits.

Then Phil and I decide to ramp it up and write another book.

Now this, more than the running at the moment, is light relief from the day to day, but just trying to fit that in is hard work. Once baby has gone to bed and you have tided up, all you want to do is collapse on the sofa. But then you have all these ideas buzzing around your head which you need to get down on paper.

Phil and I enjoyed a catch up over tea and cakes yesterday in the picturesque town of Henley in Arden, local to both of us. Ideas where discussed, plans drawn up and freckles gained in the lovely sunshine. But in the back of the mind there is always more to do to keep the house ticking over.

So why do I do it?

I could just ditch the book, the running or both and just get on with being a working mom.

Well, sometimes I wish it was that easy. But I can’t. If I don’t exercise I feel stodgy and loose my motivation in other areas (I had to do a turn round the block after the chocolate tiffin and apple strudel we shared) and the book is just something that excites me. Without those things I’d wouldn’t feel like I real existed.

The down side, always chasing my tail and feeling a bit frazzled.

Well at least, to quote Daisy Waugh’s book ‘I don’t know why she does it’, I’m not up to midnight baking cakes for class too as that would just be a step too far.


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What’s your most precious possession? It’s probably not what you think.

Ded DrivePhil: Last week the hard drive in my computer died. The process was pretty quick – one day it was slow and one or two programs started to misbehave. I tried to run a disk check and this failed half way through. Then every time I booted up the machine, there was an ominous black and white screen with suggestions I should run a consistency check, and when I did this, it failed as well.

Recognising all was far from well, I took the computer to a local shop who fix things. They diagnosed the problem and after a couple of days, I had the machine back with new drive.

Fortunately, I’ve prepared for this. Regular backups on to a separate drive that lives in some storage I rent would hopefully ensure I didn’t lose much valuable data. The restore process didn’t work as well as it should have but I have now got most of the files back.

Data is such a bland word though. What we are talking about is photographs – memories. Places I’ve been, people and pets I’ve seen. Things I’ve made. Irreplaceable images. There’s also several million words. Some of these have been published so I have hard copy, but others exist only on the spinning platter on the disk.

At least The Book is safe. There’s some early stuff on the drive but everything that matters lives on a shared on-line folder and of course, on Candice’s computer.

All of this is precious. Possibly the most important storage I, or anyone else with a computer owns.

Every so often, you hear of someone having their mobile phone stolen and they are more worried about the lost photos, often of relatives no longer alive, than the value of the handset.

So, back everything up. Don’t do it one day, do it now. If that means spending a few quid on a backup drive, do it. You’ll not be sorry. Don’t keep this drive next to the computer either. A burglary or fire could wipe out both. A friend of mine keeps his in his desk drawer, taking it home for occasional updates and then returning it in the morning.

As for your phone – I have that covered. Using Dropbox (for free) and their (free) app, I have mine set to upload new photos every time it sniffs WiFi. I can then access the images from my PC or just browse through them, safe in the knowledge they should always be around and can be transferred to a new handset if I want to.

It’s a precious thing, that whirling drive in the computer. Look after it, you’ll be surprised how much you’ll miss it when it’s gone.


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Crash bang wallop

Fast & Furious 7 (2015) Poster Candice: Slightly delayed post this week due to a trip to Leeds and a vomiting baby (lovely way to greet me on my return 🙂 )

Last week I went to see ‘Fast and Furious 7’.  I’ve been a fan of the films since the first, though they went a bit off piste in the middle when they didn’t have Vin Diesel or Paul Walker in them.

I really enjoyed 6 – thought they’d finally hit on the reason for the films by taking the mickey out of themselves.  This film had a mixture of that with the usual fights, car chases and preposterous situations that everyone lives from but was probably not quite so tongue in cheek. I suspect that might have been related to what happened during the filming, the tragic death of Paul Walker in a car accident.

I also finished ‘The Forgotten’ by David Baldacci, another action block buster around a Army Special Agent John Puller who investigates the death of his aunt in the Florida town, Paradise.  Being a Baldacci its all guns, blood and sharp fighting from beginning to end.

The two of them make an interesting insight into what makes us tick when it comes to entertainment.  Particularly men like big bangs and crashes, plus some T&A, to keep them interested. I like the former (but not the later) as long as there is some semblance of story in there. To be honest there wasn’t much of a story line in F&F 7, and it really did get quite implausible at the end – the Rock walking out of an ambulance he’d crashed over a bridge when five minutes ago he’d just cut a cast off his arm.  But because we know the characters and you expect them to be a certain way it was nice, comfortable fun.

The Baldacci was much better than the last but still had one too many fights that he escaped from unscathed fit it to be truly believable. I’m off for a long weekend now and I’m looking for some TV trash to watch over the weekend as we have DVD player but no satellite.  I suspect I’ll be erring towards the crash bang wallop world to be entertained.

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In the club

Red WinePhil: While it’s important to research your writing, it’s not easy to gain entry to everywhere you need to write about, so I was pleased recently to find out that we’d got our guesswork right.

Early in our book, there is a scene that takes place in a club. Not the sort of club la Nolan goes to boogie to phat beats by Chaka Demus & Pliers, but a proper Gentleman’s club. The sort with fine dining and comfortable furniture dating back to the middle ages.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a business lunch to discuss a new project. The man who set it up works in the City of London and it appears, does this sort of thing all the time. Very nice.

When I mentioned this to Candice by e-mail, the response asked a question that hadn’t crossed my mind.

OMG. What are you going to wear?

Hmmm. Well, I’d sort of got it in mind I’d wear my nice interview jacket from Next, black trousers and shoes and a shirt.

We then proceeded to have a discussion where I learned that I might not actually be suitably attired for such an occasion. It didn’t help that the dress code according to the website was “city smart casual” which means nothing to me. A dark jacket, or better still a suit would have been better, “as long as it’s not too old”. Too old? Why does that matter? Something to do with style apparently. I don’t have it but was ominously told that “anyone can be styled”.

Anyway, out of the three of us at the lunch, I was the second smartest which was fine. The scruffiest, wearing all the right clothes but looking rumpled, was the guy who was a member so obviously it didn’t matter that much. Having said this, the people at the other tables were pretty uniformly dressed in black or dark grey suits.

The club itself was very nice. In The Book, we describe wood panelling and leather chairs and that’s pretty much what I got. Service was discrete but polite with the members name being remembered as well as the (presumably) good red wine he favoured, a bottle of which was proffered within a few minutes of arrival.

Basically, I can see why Gareth would like it and how Kate would feel like a fish out of water. Lunch lasted three hours for a start and could be described as “convivial” even a bit old-fashioned. If you are a go-getting young business woman, learning to slow down and get the best out of it will be a challenge. At least, unlike Kate, I didn’t need to nip off to the loo to jot down notes in case the alcohol dulled my memory. Mind you, if I had, the loos were very nice as well.

Anyway, last week, I described this to Candice and mentioned that I’d brought back a souvenir. I meant a postcard from the club advertising the facilities, not a nipple tassel as she suggested.

What sort of place does she think I frequent?


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What does a General Election mean?

Image result for purdah 2015

Candice: Things are hotting up in the UK (in more ways than one) in the UK as the parties are starting their door knocking and leafleting to try and get us all engaged in who will run the country for the next five years.

I’ve already mentioned the impact it had on Phil and I the last time this happened. Working for the Government in any guise in the UK is always interesting, Phil mentioned the fact he used to get every bank holiday Tuesday off, I did too when I worked for Birmingham City Council.  But there are may things that are different in Government, and it can mean a very secure job or one that throws a curve ball every five years as the main government changes.  This can also happen when you have local elections too – you are less likely to lose your job but you have the potential to have a new boss who has a completely different idea about how they want you to work.  When I was at the City Council we had a leader for Leisure, Sport and Culture, who always had an idea of what marketing really was and they were always the expert!

But during this time it was always quiet on the work front.  You are not allowed to influence voters during this time, apart from the leafleting etc else the current government would be dropping income tax for 6 weeks to get everyone to vote for them.  It’s known as purdah.

So Phil would have been doing some very low-level website polishing and I would have been filing and sorting my purchase orders five years ago before we heard about D-day.  BORING!

At this time we didn’t even know we would be the amazing writing partnership we are now ‘cough’ so god knows what we did do in this time.  Worked from home alot!

My ex-colleagues are Birmingham are still reeling from the cuts from the last election so lets hope that its time for them to slow things down a bit after this one so we can all relax and get on with moving forward.  Obviously, Phil and I are still writing in the past at the moment so if things change we’ll have to change KOD too, at the moment they rely on the government for contracts to close places down.  We’ll have to write in the general election to see if they have some work in the future!

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Happy Bank Holiday Tuesday

Waste paper binsPhil: I know what you are thinking, “Tuesday isn’t a bank holiday you idiot.” but I’m afraid I’m not quite a stupid as I look…

Many years ago, I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture. In the office you understand, during my 5 years I only ended up on the farm half a dozen times. Partly this was because they insisted I wear a luminous green boiler suit for two of those, and there’s little the farmers laugh at more than some Ministry office ned dressed in brand new overalls.

Anyway, aside from all the cow killing I wished to arrange, one of the benefits was that most bank holidays included a Tuesday. The reasons for this were lost in the mists of time but since the pay was terrible, we weren’t going to argue.

Even better we had a day off for the Queen’s birthday and I spent a lot of time wishing she would have such a good time at the party she’d pop her clogs. Then I was sure we would get a day off for the funeral, another for the coronation and if Charlie had his official birthday late in the year, another day off for this. That concept was nearly as exciting as the chance to use the official black-edged mourning stationery I’d slid through in a large order because I was curious about it.

Anyway, fast forward a few years and I work for the County Council. There we only received the standard bank holidays and no royal birthdays. Weirdly though, the cleaning staff still got the Tuesday off.

It seems that years before, there had been a plan to ditch the Tuesday and add the extra days to our leave allowance. The cleaners union had objected so they stayed with the old system, meaning they had to take the Tuesday whether they liked it or not while the rest of us could use those days when we felt like it. OK, so the bins didn’t get emptied but our office wasn’t messy anyway.

You could argue that this was a bit daft. The freely available days could have been used to take the Tuesdays if the person preferred, but that’s the way of the Civil Service and the lunacy of some Unions.

Of course, all those rules are good news for writers who set parts of their books in the world of government and like a bit of idiocy to prove some laughs…

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And relax….

Image result for hung parliament

Candice: I hope that you are all relaxing and enjoying the Easter break.  In the UK most of us get Friday and Monday off as bank holidays and its time to relax, spend time with family, and catch up but without any of the pressure that comes with buying presents at christmas.

So I’ve done some gardening (before the non-stop rain arrived), done a big food shop and been to the gym so its time to sit down and find out what James Bond film is on and get a glass of wine on the go.

But there is also something else big going on in the UK.  They have announced the date for the next general election, five years since the last. Five years ago Phil and I would have also been relaxing this weekend as, Easter was over the same weekend, without really knowing what was going to hit us in the next few weeks.  Coming back from Easter Gordon Brown dissolved Parliament and then called for a General Election.  At the time we were minding our own business ticking over at a Labour set up Quango designed to promote technology in Education.  We’d already worked out that we had a similar  sense of humour and if I was in the office I’d try and sit near Phil, but little did we realise what was coming next.

So on our return from Easter all hell broke loose as new government potentially meant no job.  This didn’t bother Phil and I quite so much as we were only contractors and at some point wouldn’t have a job full stop, but for the rest of the staff who had been ticking over this would mean the end of the world.

So on May 6th there were a lot of people watching the TV screens in the office when the announcement was made.  An audible gasp came when it was discovered it was a hung Parliament and that they didn’t know who would be in power.  More time to have to wait and see what would happen next…

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