Monthly Archives: October 2015

A Man called Ove

A Man called Ove Phil: Scandinavian fiction is all the rage at the moment.

TV schedules are full of gruesome murder artily filmed in beautiful locations and bookshelves are catching up. Never mind girls with dragon tattoos, I much prefer The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared and it’s follow-up The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

My latest reading also come from the land of Ikea, Fredrik Backman’s A Man called Ove.

Ove appears at first to be a typical grumpy old man. He is surrounded by idiots who can’t reverse trailers, bleed radiators or read signs. When we first meet him, he’s trying to buy an iPad and complaining that it is a very poor sort of computer that doesn’t have a keyboard. The reason for bamboozling the salesman isn’t revealed until very late in the book.

The timelines in the book are interesting. Once we’ve left the computer store, we follow Ove through his daily routine. He is retired and devotes his time to doing things properly, wishing others would do things properly, and trying to kill himself.

Every other chapter takes us back through his history from childhood, first job, owning a SAAB, building a house, marriage, watching the house burn down, falling out with a neighbour for buying a BMW and the accident that nearly robs him of his wife.

You’d expect that the some of his misfortunes would explain why Ove is the way he is, but the truth is, he’s always been that way. Instead his single-mindedness lack of comprehension of why life is crazy inform his reactions to events. At first, I wasn’t sure about this but quickly grew into the story and like the character a lot. Maybe this says something about me!

By the end, the time lines come together and all the threads are tied up leading to the logical, if a little sad, ending.

Ove would be very satisfied by the way things turn out.

Reading the reviews is interesting. A Man called Ove didn’t need a lot of publicity, it’s described as a word of mouth sensation. 515 five-star reviews on Amazon would seem to confirm this – they greatly outnumber all the others. Read the 1 and 2 star reviews and they all say similar things. The style is simple and the character more like cartoons.

I’d agree that there is a lot in this. Ove lives in what one reviewer called “a Disneyfied version of the real world.”. The humour is gentle and slightly repetitious. The characters are there for a reason and nothing more. You sometimes wish Ove would be a bit more flexible too.

Despite this, I and a million others loved it. I can see why you might give up after a couple of chapters but for those who don’t, it’s great. I guess that there is a heart-warming thought for wannabe authors. You might submit your work to someone who doesn’t get it. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, just that your style doesn’t click with them.

There is hope for us all.

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Taking inspiration from the past


Candice: There isn’t a lot of writing going on in the Parker and Nolan world at the moment, well not in the Book world though the Parker is busy with his train stuff and I am writing reports and doing spreadsheets at the moment.

So I thought I’d try and find some inspiration from the past and having a look a round on the web I found this interesting page with interviews from successful writers.

There is a range of writers from across the last 50 years, taken from interviews that the BBC have done.  I haven’t heard of some of them but there is a wealth of information about styles and character development that readers might find useful.

In this world of digital media I find this source of information fascinating.  Its amazing that some of these interviews still exist let alone that you can listen to them from a computer years after the author had died.

Dip in and see if you can find your inspiration.

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The joy of being published

The Dead Dog DayPhil: I’m not quite sure how I ended up following Jackie Kabler on Twitter. Probably something to do with her having appeared on Midlands Today, my local BBC news service and home to much more interesting presenters than the national news. Remind me to tell you the story about how I shared a canteen with Nick Owen years ago…

Anyway, I’m browsing the Twitterspehere and spot a tweet along the lines of “I’ve got a book deal!”.

This is followed over the next few months by lots more Tweets conveying the excitement of the whole process through edits and re-writes.

The Dead Dog Day is set in a TV newsroom with lead character Cora Baxter being a breakfast TV reporter. If anyone wants an object lesson in writing what you know, here it is.

Regular readers of this blog will now expect me to go off on one about people from the telly getting published when the rest of us struggle, but not this time. It might be years spent as a journalist, but Jackie brilliantly manages to express the excitement any of us wannabe authors would feel to see our words in print.

Truth is, none of us really think we are going to be as rich as Rowling with any book deal, although we wouldn’t mind, we just want to share the story that fell out of our heads. It’s not about the money, the dream is a book with our name on it. Maybe an appearance at a literary festival and some mild PR work but basically, to be in a position where lots of people want to know about a world that existed exclusively in our imaginations until someone else decided they loved it as much as we do.

What I love is seeing someone so giddy with pleasure at making it into print. Admittedly, I’d like the someones to be me and Candice, but that’s only a matter of time. For the moment, it’s fun to enjoy the highs (get deal) and lows (got to write the sequels to a deadline) vicariously.

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How social media has changed the world

Candice: I went to a wedding reception this weekend.  I have known the bride for years as she and I met over manicures and then have become friends.

When I got married seven years ago, the bride was the one who did my pre-wedding prep: nails, massage etc etc. I can still see the room, remember the conversations and feel the slight shell shock that my wedding was the next day. So it was nice to join her on her big day all these years later.

However, it was also interesting to see how things have changed.  Just after I go married was when I joined Facebook as I wanted people who hadn’t been able to come to the day to see the pictures.  However, there were lots of people who weren’t even on Facebook so this just covered a few of our friends.  I waited a few weeks for the professional photos to arrive and then posted a select few.

Seven years on, within hours of the event, I could watch footage of the speeches, first dance and see photos from across the day – all through Facebook. And still they come.

It is the thing now to take pictures and record your life through social media.  I am only on FB and Twitter, forget Instagram or anything else, I really don’t have the time.  We came back from the wedding and had a few nice photos of us which have been posted.  What did we take them for ?  Record for ourselves of how we have changed and for posting on Facebook.  The picture is unlikely to get printed or put in an album.

To be honest I am not sure how I would feel about my private function getting a public airing. Some things are meant to be between you and your friends.  But as someone who didn’t go to the whole day at least I can join in the fun.

The same can be said about our book I suppose. I am nervous about the point where it is out there, as there is the opportunity to critique (something no one would do publicly with a wedding photo) but for people to read it it has to have its day in the light.  Roll on Christmas (or maybe not…)

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Twisty endings

The Foster HusbandKate left her seaside home town of Lyme Regis for the bright lights of London when she was eighteen, and never looked back. Why would she? She had it all: the glamorous career, the big townhouse, the gorgeous husband. Until her marriage failed and she found herself with nowhere else to go but home.

Spoiler Alert: I am going to tell you how this book ends.

Phil: I’m a little obsessed with story endings at the moment. I like to think both our books provide the reader with a satisfied feeling as they reach the last page. Lose ends tied up, everyone sorted. A couple of hints to encourage you to read the next book but basically you want to feel the warm glow that arrives after a particularly pleasant meal that someone else is paying for.

Some endings work better than others. Reading The Foster Husband by Pippa Wright, the ending is a twist. Quite a good one too.

From the start of the book we are led into typical light chick-lit territory. Wife bails from a broken marriage and has to start again back in her old home town. A town which has some uncomfortable memories and people she’s not sure she wants to meet.

The story progresses in two strands. We have the here and now with Kate coming to terms with her new life, meeting her sister’s fiancée who moves in with her to renovate a house for sale. Along the way she determines to train him up to be a good husband.

Alongside this we have flashbacks to her old life as a big-time events organiser. Meeting her husband and the loss of her job and deterioration of the marriage.

Only at the end do we discover that far from being the wronged party – and there are a shoal of red herrings to make you think he’s been knocking off her best friend – it turns out that she was the one who did the dirty in a pub toilet. All the time he’d been trying to break her out of the depression she’d fallen in to with unemployment.

Weirdly, this revelation makes for a much better ending than the current story, but you want to know how she ends up so we need this too.

I’m quite pleased to read something where all the men aren’t scum and the women paragons of virtue. I like the husband being a good bloke, even though he probably shouldn’t be according to the build up. She is flawed but seen from inside her head, we can understand why.

While we are aiming for a strong female lead, there’s no need to do down the blokes for this to work. Sometimes both sexes get it right and sometimes they get it wrong. It makes for a more interesting world.


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An Audience with Meera Syal – part of Birmingham Literature Festival

Mera PickCandice:  Phil and I took a trip into Birmingham this weekend to visit an event I had picked from the Birmingham Literature Festival brochure.  As is always the way with these festivals there are more events that you’d like to visit than there our hours in the day.  I looked through and plumped for this one, partly because it was the saturday after I came back from holiday and partly because I liked Meera Syal.

On the way I did have to pop in to see Grand Central, the new shopping centre above Birmingham New Street, but I have to say it so too busy so I didn’t really get a good nose at John Lewis. I will be back though as it was a very nice setting!

Settling down in the Studio at Birmingham Rep, after woofing a tea and cake (lemon curd muffin, yum!) we sat and listened to an hour of discussion with Meera and her playwright friend Tanika Gupta, talking about converting her book ‘Anita and Me’ in to play, that is currently being staged at the same venue.

What we hadn’t realised was that the piece was being recorded for the Radio 3 Free Thinking programme, so my clapping was an extra on that (I don’t think I get paid for it :)).  Having that focus meant that it the interview had a more serious slant than perhaps some of the other events we have gone to over the years.

Sitting in some lovely high backed leather chairs the three discussed taking a book and making it in to a play, versus a film, something that ‘Anita and Me’ has also had done. I think was obvious to see that Meera wasn’t as happy with the film as the play as she had less control over the final product.  What was interesting was that she didn’t see to have very much involvement in the play being written but obviously trusted Tanika.

There was also a lot of discussion about how ‘Anita and Me’ is now GCSE course work, something that Meera is very proud of.

The next part of the interview was something that Phil and I both struggled to relate to, being white people growing up without prejudice in the 70’s.  There was an extensive discussion about this, at it is also the theme of the book and then it moved on to how being Asian in Britain has effected them and their family right up until present day.

All in all it was an interesting afternoon, mainly because Meera is an interesting speaker.  She put the presenter on the spot at one point as they had cut the Q&A session short and she told him she wanted more!  I can remember reading ‘Anita and Me’ and ‘Life isnt all Ha Ha Hee Hee’ years ago and don’t really remember what they are about, but I do know I enjoyed them.  I think I will be going to look for them in the second hand shop or via the Library to have another read.

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Holidays – the good, the bad and ugly.

Candice: Yes, as Phil would say I have been off sunning myself again.  And I’ve come to write a blog post for Thursday and found he’s already done one, but I’m going to jump in on that.

Where have I been? Off to the Algarve part of Portugal.  Nice, slightly touristy part where all the Brits go to escape the ever decreasing sunshine and temps in the UK.  And how was it? Well, if I’d written this blog post last week as I had originally planned then I’d say it hadn’t been the greatest of breaks.  Why?

Well this is my list of what I do and don’t like about holidays:


The sun – to be honest that is pretty much the only reason I go to enjoy some Vitamin D

Not being at work – that is the other important part.  I do like to work but everyone needs a break and a wind down

The atmosphere – not so much these days as we can’t take a near 2 year old yomping up some hill side to see a ruin, or swimming through tunnels, but I do like to go and get something different from the places I visit, a new food or sight.


Driving – I do miss the independence being able to drive gives you.  Some holidays we will hire a car but often we don’t and as much as I love to walk everywhere this can be a bit of a bind when you have to go to the supermarket everyday to carry your bottles of water back.

Clothes – what I actually mean is the breadth of wardrobe.  I can only get so much in a 20kg bag and by the end of 10 days I have got bored with throwing on one of my two options of shorts with varying tops.  At least when you go somewhere hot you don’t need many outfits.

Baby stuff – what do you do with a fed up child who has a hacking cough?  It took us days to work out that she was really poorly rather than just playing up as we didn’t have enough toys or she wasn’t sleeping in her own bed.  Five nights of that and then it was off to the Doctors.  At home we would just have everything we needed to hand to sort things out.

But what I did get out of this holiday was a good read or two.  ‘Queen Mum’ by Kate Long being one.  I will write a review in the future but how did you know, Phil, when you lent me this it had the one scenario that I most worried about with Erin, being run over by a car. I don’t think that helped with the relaxation!

I will add, even after all that, I have spent the last hour looking for the next option for our holiday for next year….

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Let’s talk about cake

spoonpencilPhil: As you will know, team NolanParker likes cake. We also like literary festivals. Thus, when checking out Warwick Words brochure, one of the sessions that leapt out at me was Frances Quinn talking about winning the Great British Bake Off and her latest cookbook.

I prefer eating cakes to baking but my sister is very keen so I fired an e-mail over to her mentioning the event. Half an hour later she replied that tickets had been booked and I was going along as well.

Literary events are funny things nowadays. They start with lofty ideals filling sessions with earnest people who don’t own a jacket without elbow patches and like nothing better than discussing the sort of book that makes your head hurt to read.

Gradually numbers go up and the sessions are being run by writers people have heard of. At first this will be half of Radio 4 but eventually you’re seeing proper celebrities appearing. Now the elbow patch crowd don’t get a look it. Sessions sell out in minutes, all to people who care little for writing but love to meet people whose books they have read. Questions at the end are more Fearne Cotton than Jeremy Paxman.

Surely writing a cookbook isn’t really literature is it? If I’m honest, it’s not that much different from the job I do showing people how to build models, just with less glue and more chocolate.

And you know what, there wasn’t much talk about writing. What there was though was lots of talk about presentation. And for me, that was very, very interesting indeed.

On stage while we waited, (me, 6 other men and 144 women including the Southam Baking circle), there was a big screen. I’ve seen this before and it usually means clips from the telly.

Wrong. No clips but lots of slides and a few videos showing how ideas come about and how they are developed. There were pictures of cakes of course but these were accompanied by stories, not recipes, explaining where the inspiration came from.

Sketches. Photos. Ideas.

And it was well done. Frances Quinn can work Powerpoint. Even though she was standing behind a screen and seeing everything in reverse, we saw slides and videos and it was slick. This might not sound impressive but I’ve sat through far too many presentations where the person at the front is acting as though they’ve never seen a computer or a mouse before and we lumber through the slides in a random order because the concept of back and forward is too challenging. Worse, when it’s time to show anything else, a pathetic, “It’s all a bit technical for me” issues forth while the audience wonder why they paid to see this.

The thrust of the talk was that execution of ideas is often simple.

Having the good idea in the first place is the hard part, but a whole lot easier if you keep your eyes and mind open.

A couple of examples: Cakes cooked in paper coffee cups to look like coffee. Really neat and simple but had you thought of it? Modern sculpture cakes based around millionaire shortbread to celebrate the millionth visitor to a gallery. Even I could work out how that was done but as I say, the execution is easy(ish), the idea is the thing.

This ties back in to thoughts we’ve been having about our book. Some recent feedback said our style was enthusiastic albeit a little undisciplined but that the basic idea was sound. We can tweak the former but if the basic idea is rubbish, it doesn’t matter how well you write it, you are on to a loser. Our idea is as good as we think it is.

My sister came away with a signed cookbook. I left with a load of thoughts about how I can present my work in the future and the promise of cake to test soon.

A pretty good evening. You might not be able to buy inspiration, but this was pretty close.


Regular readers might be concerned that Candice missed out on all this cake talk. Well, she’s still on holiday. More to the point, she didn’t get the chance to point out that here we have yet another succesful author who runs for “fun”. It’s not fair. Where are all the slothful writers?

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If you are making a Christmas list…

FestivePhilPhil: When the Nolan is away*, the Phil will play.

Christmas has been on my mind this week. I spent a day surrounded by fake trees on Tuesday. There was even an opportunity to wear my elf hat.

The festive season approaches fast and so I need to pull my finger out on the publishing front. We are determined that Kate vs The Dirtboffins is going to be available in some form by the time you are decking the halls with boughs of holly. It’s ready to go and just needs some technical formatting issues sorting out before Candice can launch a multi-million penny advertising campaign to see it on every Kindle out there.

The ability to say, “I’m going to publish” no matter what happens is one of the joys of the modern age. Recent train and tube trips show that e-publishing is freeing authors from the shackles of the big publishing houses. Yes, a paperback is very nice, but the ability to distribute electronic copies takes away all that complicated printing and the need to persuade a bookshop to give space over to your work. No need to drive a van full of paper around either, although I quite like driving vans but then I bet Dan Brown doesn’t do his own deliveries.

So, watch this space. We have a brilliant new cover to show off very soon for a start. In the meantime, if you are looking for something to while away a few hours with some tea and cake then I have another bookazine out, and with the Nolan out of the country I can mention it here without the eye-rolling admonishment at my nerdiness.

The British Railway Modelling guide to building your first model railway will hit WH Smiths magazine racks on October 12th. If you can’t wait (I know you are keen) then it’s available on-line now. I’ve already signed and wrapped a copy for my friend. She’s going to be so pleased. Don’t anyone tell her and spoilt the surprise.

The BRM Guide to Building Your First Model Railway

*apparently it’s easier to write when you are somewhere sunny near a swimming pool, or so I’m told…

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