Monthly Archives: September 2015

Anthropomorphise Me

AshleyPhil: Reading a story on the Clients from Hell website recently, I was struck by one tale where someone breaks an entire network with the excuse, “I saw this cable lying there, and no one was using it. I saw two free ports and put it in them, so it wouldn’t feel useless.”

Serious technical types will laugh but I have some sympathy for the hapless employee. You see, I am terrible for ascribing human characteristics to inanimate objects.

A few weeks ago, I was on the bus passing a couple of recently renovated houses. The alleyway between them has been fitted with a double glazed door unit, the sort of thing normally fitted into a wall. I wondered if the uPVC frame was pleased to be able to see the sunshine or sad not to be set in a wall to avoid the rain.

I was concerned how a piece of plastic felt.

I’ve got this anthropomorphising thing bad.

This is a bigger problem than you might think. Of course my cars have names. The Beetle is Marrigold, camper Ashley (in my defence, he had this name when I bought him) and Peugeot 206 is “Little Car”, a pathetic attempt not to name him or her.

I talk to them, congratulating each vehicle at the end of every journey. Part of me, the bit that knows cars break down, hopes that this will persuade the car to try hard to get me home.

Trouble is, I’m not using Ashley and it’s time to sell him. Truth is, it’s been time to sell him for the last 5 years.

It’s like selling a pet. I don’t care so much about the money, more that he goes to a good home. I want to vet prospective purchasers. Ideally they will have a garage so he doesn’t get cold or wet. He will be taken for nice runs and enjoyable holidays. Money should be lavished if any repairs are required. At no point should he be customised.

I put all this down to the same imagination that helps me write stories. Writers should be able to approach a subject from different angles and work “outside the box”.

At least that’s my excuse. Does anyone else suffer from this?

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False endings

inspectorcallsPhil: Years ago, I was a top hospital radio presenter. Every Tuesday evening, our team would gather requests for top tunes from those unfortunate enough to be on the wards (although lucky enough to be able to listen to us) and between 8 and 10pm, we’d be spinning the platters that matter on the wheels of steel for their entertainment.

One of my favourite tracks was, and still is, Mr Blue Sky by ELO. If you know the song, you’ll remember that it has pitfall for DJ’s – a “false ending”. Basically, the song comes to the end, pauses for a fraction of a second and then an instrumental section bursts forth.

If you don’t know this, you’ll probably be speaking when Jeff Lynne and co come back and drown you out. A top jock knew about this, could whack the fader down so the CD stopped, read out the list of the next days shows and then fade it back up again. How a career on national radio eluded me, I don’t know.

False endings aren’t confined to music though. I was watching the BBC’s excellent new version of JB Priestly’s “An Inspector Calls” recently. Not knowing the plot, when the Inspector left the family, I was thinking that the play was every bit as good as I’d been told.

If I’d stopped watching at this point, I’d have been happy.

But, no. Preistly then takes things a further step by making the inspector who had so brilliantly shown the family how they were all partly responsible for a girls suicide, into a ghost. He didn’t exist and it’s not really obvious what he’s supposed to be.

I’m not great with ghost stories at the best of times but this annoyed me. The ending, where I thought it should be, was powerful, tied up all the lose ends and pretty much perfect. Instead we had this wooly stuff which didn’t finish matters up to my satisfaction.

What happens?

Do the writers decide they need to fill a bit more time and wang a bit on the end?

Did ELO see the first pressing of their disk, notice some unused vinyl and think, “We’ll rustle up some instrumental stuff to fill that.”

Was Preistly persuaded by the theatre management that audiences would like another 20 minutes for their ticket money?

When you reach the end, here’s some advice. Stop. Just stop.

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RIP to the Hollywood Bonk Buster

Candice: I was saddened and shocked to hear of the death of Jackie Collins the other day.

I have to say I read quite a few of her books and though not pulitzer prize winning fiction they certainly entertained me while lying on a sunlounger. Before the days of out and out sex in Fifty Shades, Jackie was letting her ladies give the gents a ‘one two’ in great detail, but without all the breathy tosh.

It is a shame to hear of anyone dying, whether by cancer or any other means, but I would like to think that Jackie had a full life writing her fun, entertaining books which mocked most core American characters.

I don’t think Phil and I will ever hit those dizzy heights, there isn’t enough sex in our books to drive that kind of audience, but we’d like to aspire to be some where in that league.  Oh to have the time to write 32 novels!

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Should we start at the end?

CocoPhil: Last Sunday, I spent a few hours looking after my sisters dogs. While lovely animals, they are hopeless conversationalists and so my plan was to spend the time writing the first draft of Book 2’s conclusion.

Progress was good. I had the advantage that our recent cake-fuelled discussions pretty much mapped out the main plot points I needed. The result should have been the writers equivalent of dot-to-dot. Start here, go there, and then there. Just fill in the bits in the middle.

All this is pretty much how it went, except that as I approached the end, it seemed very natural to take a little detour. A few hundred words popped in a little diversion that while we hadn’t planned it, fitted the mood required.

Writers are always talking about characters developing a life of their own and that was the case here. More than that though, the plot developed a life of it’s own. I knew what I was writing would work because it seemed so natural.

Anyway, just over 4000 words later, I passed the result over to Candice who read, giggled and said ‘yes’.

Now we have the ending, there is work to do to add in some scenes to get us there. I’ve also had an idea for a further twist and sub-plot to enrich the overall story arc. Oddly, that will fit in with a piece already written, but that I didn’t know was going in that direction at the time.

I almost wonder if writing Book 3 should start at the end. After all, JK Rowling wrote the last chapter of the Harry Potter stories when she produced the first book and then stuck it away in a safe, so the method has shown previous success.

Talking of directions, a final tweak gave me what I thought at the time was a very neat ending. Right up until I realised that the sun sets in the West and not the East, exactly the opposite way to what I needed. Grrrr.


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Strong Female Characters – how do you not make them a ‘bitch’?

Candice: Phil lent me a book the other week by Adele Parks called ‘Game Over’.  We like Adele as we met her at the Stratford Literary Festival earlier this year.

I haven’t finished the book so I won’t write a review yet, but the main female character is a ‘balls out, no holds barred’ woman who only does one night stands and is totally focused on her career.

Our main character, Kate, was originally more like that, but after some feedback we softened her a little.  Not too much mind as the whole point of these books is that the woman is not ‘wet’!  I hate females that turn into quivering wrecks at the sight of a six pack and then proceed to dribble after a man until they are married and have their first child.

Not that Kate is based on me (she isn’t), but it’s interesting that some of my friends are going back to work after having their first child and there are lots of discussions on Facebook about missing the child and feeling lost.  Um, I don’t really understand that as I didn’t feel like that.  I love Erin but she and I get more out of our day by going to nursery and work respectively. I haven’t said that on Facebook though as I think it would go down like a lead balloon

So, how do you make a female character strong and not make people hate her for either becoming too soft or being so hard you can’t empathize with her?  I think we have got that fine balance but it is that, a fine balance.

Phil has sent me the final big scene for Book 2 this weekend.  It’s cracking and well on the way to bringing it all together, but it does need some other parts adding into the rest of the book to make it make sense.  And part of that is deciding how much Kate is in to Dave.  This book is where their relationship starts to change and we have had a lot of discussions about where their relationship goes long term.

So my job is to go back through what Phil has written and make Kate strong enough but soft enough that we still believe in her and like her.  It’s not going to be easy.


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Assembling a story is like doing a jigsaw. You just have to find out where all the pieces fit.

JigsawPhil: As Candice mentioned on Tuesday, we had a really good booking session last week. Cakes the size of paving slabs, space for a laptop and a flow of ideas. What more could you want?

(Actually, I should point out that the “I needed three hours for a cherry bakewell” isn’t entirely accurate. You can see in the photo that much of this was wolfed down before I could get the camera out. My roulade on the other hand, was still a little bit unfinished when we left.)

Plan A had been to do some typing but this was quickly swept aside in preference for planning. We’d both written chunks of text in the run up to the meet and are getting close to having the bones of the book together. My latest offering had been slotted into place and we then discussed how well one of the new character worked within it. In the first draft, you might get the story but not the correct tone.

Every so often someone would pull a “Shut up Phil” face and I’d know that I was probably barking up the wrong tree. That’s fine, I’ve learnt when to back down and sometimes I even work this out before we get there. Occasionally, I even get a win – one of the main sticking points I had with a new passage is to be sorted out with a new, and potentially very funny scene that forces our character to admit something to herself which follows on to the next chapter.

Fortunatly, we can both take criticism from the other. Candice has written a lovely scene with our IT guy and our Femme Fatale but she can’t get into the mind of the nerdy man as well as I can, so it’s gone back with modification. My take on a character was deemed to give away too much at the wrong stage of the plot, so she’s going to have a crack at fixing this.

Anyway, I’d assumed that my work was pretty much the conclusion of the book but as we threw around ideas, discovered it wasn’t. There is a really big scene to follow it, one we’d talked about but not found a place for. Once we worked out where this all fitted though, it was as obviously right as it is when you place the final piece in a jigsaw.

Even the writing shouldn’t be too hard (!) as we’ve left lots of lose ends to tie up and these dictate what has to happen. As long as the characters behave when I start typing, all will be well.

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A good use of time?

bigcakesCandice: During my convalesce last week I had one thing on my mind, getting some writing done while I had the time.  Of course I was also meant to be recovering from an operation so I need to make sure that was quite high up on the agenda.

It helped that, though not very mobile, I didn’t have too many after effects from the anesthetic so spent time moving between sofa and computer and not bed, as well as having my daily constitutional walk.

Phil and I managed a session on Thursday where three hours were spent discussing ideas and scoffing some rather substantial cakes. They came from a new pub that has opened not far from my house, which specializes in carvery and cake.  Yes these items are true size in the picture.  I have to say my Bakewell was lovely, though I needed the full three hours to get through it.

So, I’d already written some stuff before the meet and had a look at our timeline.  Though we’d plotted stuff out before with post its etc, we hadn’t gone back to review.  As is often the case the ideas are there or there abouts but when you come to write them they don’t follow the route you originally had in mind.  So it was a good opportunity to go back and say – ‘where does that fit?’ or ‘actually I don’t think that character would do that’.  What I found was we had holes, where we jumped from one major scene to another without the connection between the two.  So rather than writing a lot of new content, I did some connecting, with some short scenes that made it all make more sense.

By the time we got the pub I had a better idea of where we wanted to go and where the end might appear.

So came to the brainstorm and I realised how different things were this time round.  Book 1 was a free flow of ideas that eventually came together as a story.  This book is a lot more structured, but we also know our characters so well that when Phil would suggest a plot line I would argue that ‘so and so’ wouldn’t do that.  I was quite vocal in my opinion!

It took three hours and the cake to smooth over the rough edges, bash out the ideas and actually get to a point where we really are close to getting it all together.  Off the back of the meet I wrote another chapter but Phil has the big project… the ending.  We know almost exactly how this is going to work, but now he just has to write it.

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I kept thinking, “What would Kate do?”

highland flingPhil: According to the Mail on Sunday, Katie Fforde books are “A cross between Joanna Trollope and Tom Sharpe”. Quite a lot like our style of writing, so having been passed the book by my sister, I thought it would be an enjoyable read.

Instead, I wanted to throw the thing out of the window,

Jenny Porter is a “Virtual Assistant”. She works for several clients, communicating by e-mail and never meeting them. Her biggest client, Mr Grant-Dempsey asks her to got and visit a Scottish mill he has lent money to. She is to write a report on which he will decide if it’s time to pull the plug on the business. The mill is run by the Dalmain family headed by the matriarch mother of the clan.

On the way she stops off at a roadside cafe where she encounters Meggie, a twig on the Dalmain family tree. Meggie is heavily pregnant and within a few pages, Jenny is serving at the cafe and her first customer is Ross Grant. She takes an immediate dislike, throws his coffee over him and generally behaves like a petulant 12 year old.

Some of you will have guessed that Ross Grant and Mr Grant-Dempsey are the same person. My computer has, as it keeps auto suggesting the name. Jenny takes half a book to make the connection.

Part of the “problem” is that she fancies the pants off Mr D, which she shows by continuing to behave like a child at every opportunity. Convinced that he plans to close the mill despite her efforts to find a way for it to make money, every single encounter is marked by him being reasonable and normal and her throwing a huff.

The high, or low point, comes when she and the office manager present their report on the future of the mill. She throws a strop and runs off to the loo for the entire meeting.

It doesn’t get any better after this either. Jenny goes for a Christmas walk in the snow and is rescued by Ross. They shag in a snow hole but by Hogmanay she’s spitting like a wildcat despite her spending the intervening time bedridden with flu and not talking to him. In spite of this, he asks her to marry him.

I nearly binned this half way through. Only the completionist within me made me push on to the end. This is one book that isn’t going to be passed on to Candice. She’d be punching the pages in frustration.

When we wrote “Kate vs The Dirtboffins”, the female lead was never going to be some winsome girl whose only interest in life was finding a man. As I read this, all I could think was that Kate might have fancied Ross, but she’d have been icily efficient in all the business dealings. He wouldn’t have been wearing his coffee and the big meeting to save the mill wouldn’t involve any hiding in the toilet.

And you know what? She’d still have got her man, if she wanted him. Ross Grant is a very rich businessman. Are we really saying that he’d be chasing someone who kept throwing tantrums every time they met? Assuming he is a self-made man he’d be much more impressed with someone who showed she had brains and determination.

OK, I’m not really the target market but surely I can’t have been the only one reading this wishing someone would grab the lead character, give her a good shake and should the something including the words “get a grip”. For the sake of our book, I just hope that there are plenty of people out there who prefer their leads strong.

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So thats the summer over then?

Candice:  For those of us in the Midlands, yesterday has to be the biggest wash out bank holiday I have seen in a long time.  Having been stuck in bed since Friday recuperating I was hoping for a short spin round the block and a chance to get some fresh air, but no, the UK decided to do its usual and give us two weeks rain in two hours!

So today I am trying to get motivated with more grey skies and rain to come.  No wonder I am obsessed with the weather functions on the BBC website – when will the sun come back?  I have to say I am very sunshine driven.  Phil takes the mickey out of my regular holidays but I have to say they are not a nicety – they are a need.  I dread to think that that was it for the UK summer, sat here in my jumper and fleece writing this as I am. I’ve even watched ‘Lorraine’ this morning and it was all about autumn fashion, I’m shouting at the TV “I’m not ready for that yet!”

But, the forecasters gave me hope that there might be that fateful ‘Indian Summer’ coming, ie a nice September.  I do hope so as I really need one last session to get my (fake) tanned legs out and see the summer out.  I was supposed to be going to see Foo Fighters again on Saturday but due to my current situation I am banned from pogging so that’s a no, again, but it looks like it would have been a damp gig anyway.

I have promised Phil I will write so I’d better get my finger out. As that is about all I can do at the moment as movement is limited I’ve not excuse. So I will be spending the week doing light walks, napping and some writing but it would be nicer if I could do that with some sun outside so I can have my cup of tea on the bench in the garden and get some rays.

If not, its all down hill to Christmas, but at least I’ve a week abroad coming soon which will help before I really get the winter boots out.


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