Author Archives: Candice Nolan

Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 8

Freddie sat at his desk in the cramped office.  The admin area of the theatre was just a small corner of the behind the scenes space, a few rooms with a kitchen so they could make copious cups of tea to keep them all going.  The walls were plastered with posters from old shows, mainly to cover the cracks and peeling paint.

Spread in front of him were the books from the last few weeks. Ticket sales had been dire and even the forthcoming panto, normally a big pull for the theatre, was struggling to get bums on seats. Next to this was a letter from the local council giving him notice of a need to attend the next council meeting to explain his plans for the theatre, ahead of the vote on the planning application.

He put his head in his hands.

“You alright there, Fred.”   Doris, the front of house manager put her head around the door.

Lifting his head up and put he put on a smile, “Yes, I’m fine.”

“You aren’t really.  I’ve seen the receipts.  We are going to have to start buying our loo roll from Poundland soon to keep some money in the coffers.”  Doris winked at him.

Doris was the lifeblood of the theatre She’d been working there for centuries it seemed and knew everyone and everything.  Freddie smiled knowing that she’d stick it out until the bitter end, no matter what corners he had to cut to keep the place open.

His wife didn’t know why he cared so much and told him so on a regular basis.  Running a theatre had never been part of his career plan, which had involved accountancy as a cog in a big firm. When the wheels came off this with redundancy five years ago he decided, rather than go back to the corporate life, to do something he loved. 

The job advert had sounded enticing. The interview was easier than expected and the follow-up phone call from HR arrived before he’d had a chance to change out of his suit at home afterwards. The nice lady sounded so pleased when he accepted. At the time, the palpable sound of relief in her voice had passed Freddie by.

What he hadn’t realised that was running the theatre came with more stress and longer hours than his older job.  When staff didn’t turn up for a shift, he needed to be there.  When the fire alarm went off, he needed to be there.  And when the Council decided that they wanted to shut the place and sell it off for apartments, it was his job to fight tooth and claw to keep it the way it was. 

He cared because the theatre was important to a lot of people.  People like Doris who could have retired years ago but came to work because it gave her a reason to keep going after her husband had died and her children had moved away.  All the old people who sat through the matinee shows where they played old films, recreating their youth with a bag of popcorn while watching Fred Astaire.  The Mums who came for a break while their little ones watched children’s TV presenters make fools of themselves. It was more than just a building, it was a refuge.

“Your visitors are downstairs, by the way.”  Doris mimed making a tea.

Freddie gulped, he’d forgotten that Gareth and crew were descending today.  Quickly tidying his desk he nodded to Doris to put on the kettle and tried to get ready.  He had to remind himself these guys were here to help, but he still didn’t feel confident that they could.

Making their way backstage the KOD team were surprised at what they found.  Doors hung off hinges, lights flickered or just didn’t work.  A crew of half-naked dancers ran past them in the corridor, giggling, and shouting “move, we all need the loo and only one works!”

Tracey went to step into one of the dressing rooms and smartly turned back,  “Urgh, there was a rat in the corner!”

Up a tight staircase the worrying signs of disrepair continued, large cracks spidered across the walls and chunks of plaster lay on the stairs.  Tracey jumped as a piece fell from the ceiling and nearly hit her.

“If I’d known I needed a hard hat I would have packed one!”  she gripped at Gareth.

Kelvin put his laptop over his head to protect himself from any further falls.

Gareth gulped and then brushed down his suit, hoping it would be better when they got to Freddie’s office.

Reaching the top floor they found Freddie and Doris waiting, tea in hand.

“Hi there Gareth, glad you’ve managed to find us.  This is Doris, my front of house manager, she pretty much runs the place single-handed.”  Gareth shook the proffered hand.

“I’d like to introduce you to my colleagues, Tracey Dunn-Jones and Kelvin Armstrong.  Tracey looks after the business side and Kelvin is our IT and technical man.”

Freddie and Doris were drowned by a vision in pink as Tracey leant in to hug them both.  Kelvin just nodded.

“Please have a seat.”  Freddie tried to clear some space and find more seats for his guests, he hadn’t been expecting a full contingent of KOD staff.

“What did you think of the show?”  Behind Freddie’s back, Doris screwed up her face.  She knew how bad things were down there.

“Um, well, yes, it was entertaining…”  Gareth spluttered through his response.

“It was rubbish.  The crowd were half dead and so was the show.”  Tracey went straight for the jugular.  She’d been taking tips from Kate’s approach to things.

 Gareth jumped in, trying to cover up her bluntness.  “Well, yes, it was a little quiet down there and the audience was, erm, mature. Maybe the evening show is busier?”

Freddie’s look said it wasn’t. He stood up and waved his hands.  “It’s fine, it’s fine.  We know exactly how bad it is.  Ticket sales are at rock bottom, the audience need zimmer frames and we sell more tea from the bar than wine.  We’ve really lost our way, that’s why we need your help.”

“Why don’t you just sell it off and make a big profit.”  Tracey could already picture the shopping sprees she’d go on with the money.

“It’s not as simple as that, young lady.”  Doris was not warming to this bossy girl, especially as talking to her mainly meant talking to her cleavage. She’d seen tarts like this before and she’d got their measure.

“I’m sure it is, Doris.”  Tracey looked down her nose at the old dear trying to give her a piece of her mind.  “This is prime real estate, right in the middle of town.  Perfect for you and your friends to retire to and be able to pop down the shops after a game of bingo.”

Doris turned a light shade of pink and stood up.  “I beg your pardon!  This is more than a piece of land, it’s the place where people come for escapism, for some people it’s the only time they get out of the house.  We provide a very important service for the local community.”  And with that, she stormed out mumbling something about helping out behind the bar.

Gareth looked at Freddie across the desk.

“Fred mate, this is a big job.  You’ve got structural problems, poor audience numbers and a council baying for blood. I’m not sure we can help you.”  Gareth looked forlorn.

“I know, I know.  It’s a big task and I can’t pay you.  But at least give it a go until the panto is over. It’s our big earner and if we can get the ticket sales up I can plough some of that money back into the theatre.  I’ve already got quotes for some of the work and it can be done, as long as we sell out the whole run. Why don’t you all come back tomorrow and see our big name for Christmas, Sparks. I think he’ll be far more to your taste.”

Tracey looked shocked. Working in the evening wasn’t in her plans. Looking at Kelvin, she could see he was also pulling a face. It was too late, Gareth was already nodding, “Of course Freddie. I’m sure we would be delighted to see the big star.”

“Are you sure there is space?” asked Tracey hopefully.

Freddie laughed. “Don’t worry about that. We’ll squeeze you in somewhere!”

Tracey looked glum. Seeing her face, even Gareth realised what she was thinking. “Don’t worry Tracey, we’ll make it up to you. I’m sure we can do something with expenses.” At the sound of this, she perked up a little. Perhaps there would be benefits to this job after all. Her only appointment was with Netflix after all.

“Look Freddie”, Gareth continued, “It’s a big ask, but we at KOD never say no to a challenge. I’ll give it my best shot. “ Standing to shake hands, he turned to leave. What Freddie didn’t see was the look of concern. Gareth knew he really needed Kate and Dave on this, but wasn’t sure how he was going to get them on side.  Without their help, he was flogging a dead horse.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 4

The guillotine blade glinted in the light.

A smirk crossed the man’s face as he pulled the rope.

For a moment, the blade wobbled in its framework. Then it accelerated downwards towards the hapless victim’s neck. With a loud thunk it stopped dead, its work done.

In the crowd, a woman put down her knitting and clapped her bony hands together in appreciation.

The man pulled the rope again to lift the blade. As he did, he raised his hand to receive the adulation, a strained smile upon his face.

*

The Great Magneto wasn’t happy. He stomped around his dressing room. Standing in the doorway, the theatre manager looked on.

            “Bloody pensioners matinees!” he roared, “What’s the point? I mean we get what, a couple of dozen of the old bats in and by the time I get to the crescendo of my act, half of the buggers are fast asleep!”

The manager sighed. He’d heard it all before. The audiences were never big enough. They didn’t appreciate the “talent” properly. They should be grateful that anyone deigned to take their valuable time to appear in such a godforsaken little town.

Magneto seemed to read his mind. The rant continued, “I mean who do these people think they are? I’ve appeared before royalty. ROYALTY! And yet here I am, reduced to bloody provincial theatre. On a Wednesday afternoon! Do they not understand how lucky they are to see an act like mine? Well, do they?”

It wasn’t like listening to the same moans every week from the latest touring act was how the manager wanted to spend his time. A cup of tea would be a good start, or perhaps Heather in the bar would knock him up a sly gin and tonic. That would take the edge off the migraine he was sure he felt creeping up on him.

            “Well, what do you say to that?” enquired the great magician.

            “Godfrey, I’m sorry”, he started.

            “Magneto! Can’t you read? That’s what it says on the poster. You did put the posters up, didn’t you? Maybe that’s why no-one bothered to come in, because you didn’t bother to put up our advertising. Run out of sticky tape did you? Is there a Blu-tack crisis in Leighton Oxley this week?”

            The manager sighed again. “Magneto. Yes, we put up all your posters and very nice they are too, although perhaps you should use a more recent photo.”

            “More recent photo? What are you saying?”

            “Sorry. What I mean is, well, the poster looks a bit, how shall we say, old fashioned. Have you seen the ones for Spark? He’s coming next week”. As the words left his mouth, he realised his mistake. If there was one thing a stroppy, failing act hated more than anything it was to be reminded of a younger, marginally more successful one.

The magician ceased stomping and turned around. He was silhouetted against the lights surrounding the dressing room mirror, several of which weren’t working. “Sparks? Bloody Sparks? That shyster? He walks on wearing some black polo neck from bloody Primark and acts as though he invented magic. Like all those of us who have been slogging our arses off for years never existed. It’s not like his tricks are new, he just wanders around being smug and acting like a rap star. Where’s the showmanship in that?”

A light bulb loudly gave out, interrupting the flow for a second.

“As for old fashioned, is it old fashioned to give the audience a bit of razzmatazz? To give them a treat. They want to see something special, not someone who looks like they work in a bloody mobile phone shop. I don’t know if you’ve noticed love, but this is hardly the West End. We’re a long way outside the M25. Good grief, this is basically a suburb of Birmingham and you know what that means.”

The manager could guess, but decided to let the tantrum run its course.

            “It means, love, that this is a provincial backwater! No-one mentions Leighton Oxley in the same breath as London and New York. The only place they can be found together is in the back of my map book, and even then it’s in small print under a coffee stain!”

The migraine was definitely on it’s way. It was time to play the trump card.  “Look Godfr.. I mean Magneto. I know this isn’t the West End but let’s be honest, if you could get a booking at the Palladium, you’d be there.” Magneto started to speak but stopped as he recognised the truth in what the theatre manager was saying. “I know this isn’t a big theatre but we do what we can. I’m sorry that the audience this afternoon wasn’t massive but we have to put on some shows for the old people. It’s part of our remit from the Council.”

            “The Council? What the hell’s it got to do with them?”

            “They own the building. You don’t think we could survive on these sort of audiences, do you? If we weren’t part of the Parks and Leisure department, this place would have become opulent townhouses for professional people years ago. As it is, we might be going that way soon anyway.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Let’s just say that it’s hard to argue that we need funding more than meals in wheels or bloody children’s trips to museums or any of the other stuff.”

            “They are closing you down?”

The manager’s face dropped. “Not yet, but I’ve heard plenty of rumours. You don’t need to be Mystic Mandy to predict our future if things don’t change.”

For once Magneto looked perturbed. For all his bluster, any closed theatre was one less venue to perform at and one step closer to an enforced retirement for him. Looking in the corner at a small basket, he saw the face of Floppsy, his rabbit. What would happen to her? They didn’t like pets in his apartment block. It was only because she was out with him most of the day he got away with keeping her.

            “What are you going to do?” he asked.

            “Well, I do have a plan.”

            “It better be bloody good, I think I saw more red velvet in there than a showing of xx”

 “Don’t worry it’s in hand.  I’ve been talking to this group of business consultants and I’m sure they can come up with a plan to sort us out.  In fact, I got rather drunk with their boss at the weekend and he gave me the impression that this was bread and butter for them.” Freddie smiled remembering his and Gareth’s antics at the weekend, they’d had a laugh but he thought Gareth was on his side.  In fact, now was the time to strike when the iron was hot, he’d drop him a note as soon as he got back to the office.

“Sounds interesting.”  Magneto stood there stroking his rabbit, he’d retrieved her from her basket as it soothed him in times of trouble.

Freddie looked at the Magician and saw a low-price Blowfeld smiling back at him.  Well if push came to shove, he thought, he could always get him to kill the councillors in inventive ways, he certainly had the tools.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 2

Pulling the shirt out of his wardrobe Gareth smiled.  The style of his tuxedo shirt always made him chuckle. From the front it was a plain white shirt, but the arms and the back were decorated with pictures of cavorting cows in various positions only seen in a bovine version of the karma-sutra. He loved going to events and later on, when the wine had been flowing, taking of his jacket to surprise his fellow guests. It harked back to the shirt he was wearing on the night he met his wife, Veronica, though this one would be about three sizes larger.  He’d grown a bit since his early 20s.

**

Veronica Trumpington-Thomas was best described as “Good Country Stock”. Her passion was for breeding cattle. Belgian Blue’s were her favourites although some had cruelly have suggested that the breeds square set stance and stocky features were not that different from their owner. She hadn’t really wanted to marry but her father had said that it was her duty so the task was set about with the same efficiency that she used when choosing sires for her livestock. The list of requirements was short, good temperament, reasonable features and respectable family lineage.

Sadly, the markets where husbands are acquired weren’t really to Veronica’s taste, she preferred the straw and dung of the cattle version, but there were events where eligible candidates could be found. Some old school friends were persuaded to invite her to the right sort of parties and after a few drinks, the process didn’t seem quite so unpalatable.

The annual young farmer’s ball was coming up so Veronica slipped into her best black and white ball gown, making her look more like a Friesian than would normally be desirable and joined in. Walking into the marquee someone caught her eye, a rather dashing looking young man lurking in the corner, looking a bit sheepish and lost in his tuxedo. 

As the evening wound on Veronica kept seeing this young man wandering around, but none of her friends seemed to know who he was. To honest, she wasn’t really that interested but after the meal and a few gins, she was starting to feel a bit randy.  Having either shagged or frightened off most of the other members of the local group she felt in the need of new blood and set out to find if he might be interested in a demonstration of her cattle impregnation techniques.

Gareth had been invited to the do by an old friend who proceeded to abandon him for the first girl who had flashed her pig tattoo in his direction.  He tried propping up the bar for a bit, and eventually took to circling the room until it started to circle him thanks to the amount of scrumpy he had consumed. More of a G and T person he had resorted to the local brew after his attempt to order something more refined had been ridiculed by the locals. The drink was more potent than he was used and attempts to soak up the alcohol with something solid hadn’t gone well as the cuisine was as rural as the drink.

The countryside all looked the same to Gareth so finding his friend’s house earlier in the day had been due more to luck than judgement or map-reading. Worse, when he did arrive, he discovered that he’d packed a suit but no shirt and since there was no chance of buying something he’d had to borrow one.  Unfortunately, this had been a bit of a comedy purchase and now the marquee was getting hotter and hotter but he really didn’t want to take his jacket off.

Veronica saw Gareth circling the marquee again, by this point he had begun to look a little green.  He stumbled and half fell into a chair on the table next to her.  She noticed him begin to put his head into his hands, and then seemed to be struggling to remove his jacket.

“Bugger this,” she thought, “Everyone is coping off and it’s about time I wrapped my lips round someone.”
She marched over to the next table.  Gareth, by this point, was fighting to keep his head between his knees and try get his jacket off at the same time.  Veronica grabbed the back of his tux and practically ripped it off his shoulders. 

“Oh” she screamed, as the design on the back of Gareth’s shirt was exposed, from the front it looked plain white but the back was something all the more lurid.

Gareth looked up in surprise, unfortunately at the same point the numerous pints all came to a head and he proceeded to vomit them down the front of Veronica’s frock with some force.

“Argh!” Veronica, now covered in pints of the local brew mixed with several partly digested pies, screamed.  “What are you doing!”

Gareth looked up sheepishly and started to mumble a string of apologies.  He hoped the rather large but attractive girl looming over him would not berate him too hard as he could feel a roulade and champagne cocktail that might be making its way up at any moment.

Veronica was about to let rip, who did this boy think he was, this dress had been specially made by her mother.  But as she turned to give Gareth what for she saw a pair of soulful brown eyes were staring at her that bore a startling resemblance to her favourite cow, Winny.  And with that, she was lost.

Many years of working with animals meant that Veronica had been covered by much worse than a bit of posh vomit.  She grabbed Gareth and dragged him off to the toilets to clean herself and him up. After letting him be sick a few more times, it was time to test the staying power of the portaloos.  Stories after the evening always included comments about the particularly loud mooing that seemed to be coming from the direction of the next field, though no one had seen any cattle.

**

20 years on and their marriage was still going strong, though the only children they had had four legs.  Their lack of offspring had disappointed both of them but with no conclusion as to why things weren’t working Veronica had gone back to animal husbandry and they’d settled into a different kind of family routine, their children being in the fields rather than in the house.

He loved his wife very much but she would insist on carting him off to the odd farming ball to make friends and for her to do some networking. He could chat to most people but this lot did get into quite a bit of detail about their farming practices, and he struggled to hold his own.  By halfway through the evening he’d often be found in a corner, pilfered bottle of gin in hand, drinking to his heart’s content as his wife worked the room. 

Two hours later and the Harvest farming ball was turning out the same way.  Gareth was just eyeing up a nice bottle of cider on the next table when someone plonked themselves down next to him.

“Hi, you’re Gareth, Veronica’s other half aren’t you?”

Gareth turned to his new companion.  Though slightly younger and slimmer they were cut from the same cloth.  He even caught a glimpse of colour on the sleeves of his shirt as he turned to face Gareth..

“Freddie Coward.  My wife, Joan, is over there talking to yours.  We have a small farm and she aspires to your level of herd.  To be honest, it bores me senseless, so she suggested I might want to come over and have a chat with you.”

Gareth visibly relaxed.  At least he wasn’t another farming expert.

“Veronica mentioned you run a company that helps other companies get out of trouble.  She said something about a naval island, I think I read about it in the paper.  It’s called KOD isn’t it.”

Gareth glowed slightly, he always liked to know that people knew what he did and the work on Fillern Holm had garnered them some good PR.

“Well, yes that was one of our best projects, working with the MOD don’t you know.  Can’t say too much but we turned things around.”

“Sounds very interesting, have you done any others?”

Half an hour later and Freddie might have been wishing he hadn’t asked that question as Gareth regaled him with stories of KOD’s successes.  He omitted to mention that most of the work wasn’t done by him, no harm in embellishing the truth here and there.

By this time the cider had been consumed and jackets had been removed.  The chaps laughed as they both had a penchant for lurid shirts, though Freddie’s had depictions from Shakespearean plays instead.  There was much blood and gore.

Reclining in his chair Gareth though, I like this lad, he’s on the same wavelength as me.  And he likes silly shirts.

“Pip pip, old boy.  Here’s to finding a shirt design even more frightening for the next ball.”

“You are on.  I’ve seen some great stuff on eBay.”  Freddie chinked his glass with Gareth’s.

“Actually, Gareth, I have to profess I have an ulterior motive here. I need your help.”

“What with, old boy.”  Gareth was finding it hard to focus, the cider being more powerful than his usual tipple.  He leant forward, trying not to fall off the chair.

“Well, I run a theatre.  It’s not a big place and we don’t get the cream of the shows, but I still love it. But we are really struggling, and if I don’t get the ticket sales up by end of March next year, then the local council will sell the place to property developers.”

Now Gareth had a soft spot for the theatre, having trodden the boards himself during his university days. He could remember the smell of the greasepaint and the joy of a receptive crowd.  What harm would there be in giving them a little help, he thought to himself.

“I know it’s not your usual cup of tea, but any advice you could give us to get of this mess would really help. I can’t pay you, but I can give you free tickets to every show we have on.” Freddie had gone from jolly to maudlin.  He really did love his theatre but times were tough and he was struggling to know what to do.  It was Joan who’d suggested that approaching Gareth and pandering to his softer side might mean he got some help.  She also didn’t want to see him not working and under her feet at home.

Gareth stood and patted him on the back. 

“Absolutely, I’m sure I can find time to give you some pearls of wisdom.  Don’t worry about the money, we’ll sort something out. Give me a call next week. Now if you will excuse me I think it’s time to go home, I’m seeing double of everything!”

Waddling back to his wife, half cut, a little niggle appeared in the back of Gareth’s brain.  Kate wouldn’t like this. He brushed it away, it was still his business after all, what harm was it to do something good for the community rather than for the money.

“Alright, Darling?”  Veronica was surprised to see her husband weaving toward her. She was even more surprised when he knocked her flying as he lost his footing.  Sitting together on the floor she took one look at her now comatose husband and thought, home time.

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Getting off our bums and doing something

No description available.

Candice: Phil and I met for our customary between Christmas and New Year conflab the other day. There was tea and cake, as always, and we talked about this whole writing malarky.

It’s been a long time since we released a new book and we have been trying to work out how to get out of our slump. Obviously we both still write, him for work and both of us for this blog, but something is stalling the output of the Nolan Parker writing team. Book 3 has been in the works for about three years now but the spark that was once there with the other two doesn’t seem to be driving things forward. The frustrating thing is we are about 3/4s of the way through but we just don’t seem to know how to finish the book. We’ve brain stormed lots of things but nothing gets us to the end. We’ve stalled.

I’ve been talking to someone recently about how to get out of a slump like this and we’ve decided on a new approach based on her ideas. My last post was inspired by that. Just write something!

I really enjoyed writing my little Christmas story so the time has come for us to just get on with some writing. It might not be perfect, the storyline might not fit, we might not get the characters right but at least we will get over our writers block and write something. We’ve been stalled by planning and trying together everything right first time. That didn’t happen with our other books, we just wrote and sorted it all out later.

So from next year Nolan Parker will be show casing Book 3, working title ‘Kate vs Showbiz’ through the blog. We will post what we have already written and then use the blog as our weekly challenge to write the rest of the book – whatever comes to mind. We’d like you to get involved in the writing process, so if we are trying to work out where to go next with Kate and Dave please give us feedback. What would you like our protagonists to do?

We look forward to sharing ‘Showbiz’ with you next year and finishing this exciting new story in the Kate series.

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A Christmas tale

Kate was lying on her sofa. She had glass of wine in her hand, and her two cats, Olly and Horatio were fighting for space on her lap. She wasn’t a fan of Christmas, if she heard Maria Carey sing ‘All I want for Christmas’ one more time she thought she might scream. In fact this year it seemed to be worse, with new Christmas songs coming along, god that Ed Sheeran and Elton John song just made her want to vomit. What was it about Christmas that brought out the worst in people?

KOD had managed to squeeze in their party before the new restrictions were brought in. She’d smiled through the jolliness, Christmas jumpers and songs while gritting her teeth. She couldn’t wait until the new year and they could all get back to work. Even today, everyone had been desperate to knock off early, sending silly messages and bringing those jumpers back out for video calls. She’d had to let them go at midday, that was how it worked apparently, but she’d stayed on her laptop until 6pm answering emails and catching up on the ever-mounting workload. The world didn’t close down just because it was the 24th of December.

It was warm and cosy in her flat, and the wine and the cat’s purring was making her dozy.

‘Rustle, rustle.’ Kate woke with a start. She looked around, the flat was in darkness, the only glow coming from the lights in the kitchen. Peering at her watch it showed it was nearly 1am. God, she’d fallen asleep on the sofa!

‘Rustle, rustle.’ She thought she could hear a noise from her bedroom. The flat was open plan so the only three rooms she couldn’t see were the two bedrooms and the bathroom. Rolling off the sofa, with some complaints from the two sleeping cats, she picked up the first thing that she could get her hands on, a slipper, and crept towards her bedroom. The noise was getting louder.

“Humpf”. Kate paused, that sounded like a male voice in her room. She looked around, wondering where her phone was. Perhaps she should call 999, who could be in her flat at this time? Her bedroom hadn’t seen any male action for over a year! No, she was a tough woman, she’d give him what for. She dropped the slipper and picked up one of her Jimmy Choos, the four-inch stiletto should help.

Cracking the door to her bedroom she saw the back of a large shape. Strange, it was a broad back covered with what seemed to be a red jacket. Then she could see white hair – what was this, an OAP was raiding her designer bag collection? He seemed to be bending over to look at something, and was making a lot of huffing noises.

“Yah!!!” She ran into the room brandishing the shoe, heel pointing forward. The intruder turned round. He was over six foot, but had white hair and beard, and looked about 80. “Oh, hello Kate.” A loud booming voice said to her. She stopped in her tracks, shoe still in the air.

“How do you know who I am?” She kept her aggressive stance, balls of her feet, like her trainer had taught her. “I know who everyone is, don’t you know.” The man responded. “However, it doesn’t mean I can find you on my list.”

Kate’s brain was doing twenty to the dozen; old man, white hair, red suit, Christmas Eve, and coming up with an answer she didn’t like. “But you can’t be, you don’t exist.” She blurted out.

“Do look I don’t exist?” The man pointed at his suit and smiled. “I just don’t normally get caught in the act. I must be getting old.” He laughed to himself and then turned back to the electronic tablet in his hand. Scrolling through, he carried on making confused noises. “Nope, its no good, I can’t find you on the list.”

He turned around and picked up the sack from the floor, Kate hadn’t noticed it before, but behind him was a large hessian sack. “I hate to leave you like this, but as you know I have many places to be. It seems Kate you have been a very bad girl this year, and I can’t give you a present.”

Kate pulled herself together, a bad girl. What did he mean, she’s single-handedly held KOD together, even with this ruddy pandemic going on. Everyone still had a job. What more did he want?

“Now, hang on a minute there… um Father Christmas. I’ll have you know I’ve done a hell of a lot this bloody year to keep the world spinning.” She put her hands on her hips.

“Well you might have done, my dear, but according to my system you haven’t been very nice about it. You’ve had Clare in accounts in tears twice, and written so many harsh emails my little computer had to filter some of the language before it could show me examples. People don’t like you.”

“It’s not about being liked, it’s about getting the job done!”

“Well, this time of year especially, you have to remember that people are people too, and just because Julie from HR wants to knock off early to play with her kids is no excuse to bawl her out.”

“But… but…” Father Christmas put his hand up. “Sorry Kate, you can’t argue with me. My computer knows all and it says a big NO for you for this year.” And with that, he pressed something on the screen and lights appeared outside her window. The next thing she knew he was climbing out the window and into his waiting sleigh. “Just think about it, Kate.” And he was gone.

Kate sat on the floor in her bedroom. What did an overblown, fantasy character know about work anyway! She had worked her socks off, no present, well bah humbug to him.

The next she knew a dim light was coming through her curtains. Looking at her watch it was 8am. She was lying on the floor in the lounge, still in her clothes from yesterday. Jumping up she rushed to her bedroom. No, all was as it should be. Thank god, it had all been a wine induced dream.

Back in the kitchen she started up her coffee machine and put some food down for the meowing cats. Ah, Christmas Day. Two days to relax before getting back on the bandwagon. She had a small tree in the lounge area, a token gesture to the date. Underneath were a handful of presents from family. Perplexed she spotted one she hadn’t seen before. It had gold wrapping paper and was tied with a beautiful bow.

Taking it back to the sofa she opened it slowly. Inside was a white box that contained a mug. On the mug where the simple words – ‘To the best boss ever, from KOD.’ Inside the package was a card signed by the whole team, with lots of personal messages wishing her a good holiday.

Kate leant back on the sofa. She was genuinely touched. She thought they all hated her guts. She felt bad now because she’d done nothing for anyone for Christmas. Closing her eyes she thought back to her dream, a voice coming in to her head. ‘It costs nothing to be nice.’ Perhaps she would heed imaginary Santa’s comments, a little, in 2022.

If you want to more about the exploits of Kate and the team at KOD, you can read all in our two books – available on amazon or via kindle unlimited. Just search for Nolanparker. Merry Christmas!

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Bragging rights

Candice: It’s not a very British thing to tell people about what you get up to and be proud of it. We hide our light under a bushel rather than tell everyone what we have been up to, or crow about our successes.

But I’m not really an advocate of this. I like to think I’m not a big mouth but I’m proud of what I do inside and outside of work and if someone mentions something that I have knowledge on, I will talk about it. Whether it travelling, experiences, or things like our writing or my TV work.

This time of year one of my top brags always happens, as my ‘starring’ role in a Christmas film always appears in my Facebook feed. In 2009 the film ‘Nativity’ came out. Filmed in and around Coventry, which is local to me, the film follows the competition between two schools and their teachers – both who want to do the best Christmas show. The extra factor in this is that one teacher’s ex-girlfriend has moved to Hollywood and now is big in the movie industry (or so he thinks). Taken over by the moment he tells everyone that she is coming to film their nativity play, and it blows up on him. Suddenly he needs this to happen, for the kids but also as a chance to get her back.

It’s a great feel good film and with some comedy moments and sing-along songs at the end. Having been involved in the production I have an extra reason to like it, and I know a lot about how it was made. And I like to talk about that. When the snap of me standing behind Pam Ferris at the chocolate fountain pops up on Facebook I’m always happy to share it and mention it when its shown on BBC (which it is every year). My daughter has even got to telling people at school, as they show it to the kids every year in the down time before xmas, she’s proud of her mommy.

Phil’s and my writing is another thing I like to ‘brag’ about. I’m proud of having written two books and frustrated that I haven’t managed more. But I’m happy to mention this fact, because when I do people always say ‘wow’. They don’t think I’m being a show off, just think its cool I’ve done all these things.

So I say, don’t be proud to shine. People like to know what you have been up to, and it you are interesting then they will find you interesting and want to talk to you. One thing I would say is, make sure you listen as well as talk, as they may have some interesting stories too.

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The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

The Book of Two Ways

Candice: Buying some books for my holiday the other month I picked up this. The premise sounded interesting, and a bit different from my usual murder mystery or woman’s romance novel.

There are two strands to the book, which is part of what interested me about the story. The first is a love story, the second a history of Egypt. I’ve always been interested in Egyptology, years ago I was supposed to go to Egypt but couldn’t because a volcanic ash cloud stopped all the flights. I’ve haven’t got there since due to one thing or another but I’d still like to go and see the pyramids one day.

The story follows American Dawn, who was an Egyptologist, highly rated at her University and with future plans to discover new tombs and more history. Her nemesis, is Wyatt, British Aristo, who is fighting to be top dog with her Professor both on the cause and on the dig. While in Egypt the two of them discover that their animosity also breeds passion and they have a tumultuous love hate relationship.

Out of the blue while they are away Dawn receives a call to say her Mother has passed away, leaving her in charge of her much younger brother. She has to leave Egypt and Wyatt and take up a new life at home, looking after her brother and giving up her PhD.

Fifteen years on she is married and a daughter but she just feels like something is missing. She meets a new client though her work as a death doula, someone who helps those terminally ill, who wants to pass a message to her lost love from many years ago. This, plus the suspicion that Dawn has that her husband has been looking elsewhere for attention makes her rethink her old life, and her old love.

On a whim she catches a plane to Egypt and reconnects with Wyatt. Their love has not died and they realise, though all this time has passed they are meant to be together. However, on the flight home the plane crashes and Dawn has to tell her husband and daughter about him, rather sooner than she planned.

The story twists and turns between past and present, Dawn’s earlier interactions with Wyatt and her present day confusion over her marriage and issues with her daughter. Its interspersed with lots of historic Egypt references which add an extra layer to the love story.

Its about following and not giving up on your dreams, even when a long time has passed. I think her job helps to carry the story as it shapes the idea that we could all die tomorrow, and therefore life is to be lived. I really enjoyed it, it stretched my brain a bit more than the usual read.

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Time for a proper holiday read

Candice: I’ve just come back from a great weeks holiday in the sun. It was great for lots of reasons one of the main ones being it was a proper break for the first time in a long time. I got on an airplane, something that felt very alien compared to two years ago, where it was a twice a year event. I really had to remind myself what to pack and what I needed to remember for the airport, apart from the additional Covid stuff. Thankfully I remembered the clear bag for liquids in your carry on luggage at the last minute!

Arriving in the Canaries was heaven. It wasn’t a ground breaking holiday, I didn’t go and see anything from the seven wonders of the world, I didn’t really do anything but work out one of the many ways to get to the breakfast area, which pool to lie by (there were seven) and what entertainment we were going to watch in the evening. There was a regular visit to the mini disco!

But what it did provide was a chance to wind down, and also read. Due to baggage space I only packed two physical books, but quickly realised that wasn’t going to be enough. Pre-child I would have taken four books on a weeks holiday, but I’ve got into taking less as I don’t usually get so much sunlounger time. Or I would have dived into the hotel library, but with Covid this concept has disappeared.

The first book I read was a Sophie Kinsella – ‘Love Your Life’. She is well known for writing the ‘Shopaholic’ series, which I have to say I am not a big fan of. The main character is a bit too wet. But, as we all are, she has moved on a bit, though her females are still a bit too weak for my liking. The story however was a simple premise that I rattled through pool side and when chilling in my room. A quick synopsis of the story is two characters meet on a writing retreat where they are asked to stay anonymous. They fall in love. When they get home they are not the people they thought they were. But love wins out. Along the way there are some funny scenarios but also some comments on relationships, communication and compromise which struck as chord,

Having finished book 1 I got concerned. It was only three days into the holiday. Before we’d left I’d signed up to Kindle Unlimited so I had a moment of inspiration and downloaded some books on to my phone. But I also wound down more, and just got into the habit of people watching and relaxing, so less reading needed. By the time I came back I’d half read two other books (one Kindle one paper as you can’t read a phone screen in the sun) both of which I am finishing off now.

It was lovely to had some time for back to back reading, something I don’t get to do so much at home. Though I have to say since I’ve been home, with the dark nights now starting I have been picking up a book when I finish work rather than turning on the TV for a post work wind down, and it feels good.

Holding on to that holiday vibe as long as I can, and planning to book the next one asap!

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The name’s Bond…. Candice Bond

Candice: So my turn for a review of the new Bond film. I’ve also been a fan of Bond over the years, I was more of a Roger Moore than Sean Connery (influenced by my Mom). I’ve loved the sophistication of the films; the settings, the cars, the clothing. Plus the gadgets, everyone loves a gadget.

Unlike Phil I’m not a Bond buff though, I know my theme tunes and some of the cars but not down to the infinite detail. I just like a good film, with some action, some romance and a nice man at the centre for me to look at. Daniel Craig has certainly helped that over the years…. yum.

I was really looking forward to this film for lots of reasons, Mr Craig was one (Phil found that out when I sighed with pleasure when he came on screen), the escapism was the other. After a year and a half of rubbish in Covid and personal life this was a chance to disappear for 2 3/4 hours into another world. And disappear I did. I loved all the flash, the fun, the intrigue. But with a twist for 2021, the women were stronger, Bond had a weakness (or three), the central premise wasn’t all about him saving the girl (or in this case it was a little girl who just reminded me of my daughter). There were plot holes you could drive a truck (or Land Rover Discovery) through, but who cares, it was fun.

One of my favourite scenes was in Cuba where he and a very able female agent took down a room of Spectre agents. It was old school Bond with new school Bond. Confusing plot and complicated weapon to do a simple job – tick. Multiple Extras in amazing costumes – check. Bond and side kick looking vey dapper whilst taking the room apart – check . (Even though I know about tit tape I am still wondering how she kept that dress on!). Complicated scenes where it is unlikely they will come out alive…but they do – check. All the fun that you want from a film, that still has its tongue slightly in its cheek, though much less that the Roger Moore days.

But this film did have more, it gave Bond a soul. He was more than just a ‘shag beast’ working his way round women between killing off baddies. And it gave him age, at the start he wasn’t the prime candidate, his young female replacement was.

I’m not sure where they will go next (please don’t make him female, that will just ruin it) but I do hope they do keep some of the original elements that make Bond Bond, but add in that extra spice of where the world is now. And even if I get a numb bum again, I’d go and see it just for the escapism.

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Missing deadlines!

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Candice: I have become a library convert in the last six month, as you know. However, I keep having a problem that I forget when my books need to be back!

I’m not sure whether its the lack of structure with the ongoing working from home, or the upheaval that has been going on in my my life but yet again I got a message the other day saying we’ve frozen your account!

This is unusual for me as I am a fast reader but this time I had only managed one and a half books in the three weeks. I suppose I did have the distraction of reading another book which wasn’t from the library, plus a long weekend camping where I didn’t get as much reading done as I would have hoped.

Anyway all renewed now until next time, and a note put in my phone to tell me when they need to go back (and I’ve just finished the second book this morning).

Is anyone else still finding this whole Covid weirdness is messing with their usual organisational skills? I am now back in the office one or two days a week but I haven’t quite got that down into a rhythm. It was really nice to be in the office yesterday but its still not ‘normal’ yet by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve got another winter to get through and who knows what fun that will bring.

Anyway, we’ve got this far, something I’m sure none of us thought we’d be able to do a year and a half ago. There are mutterings of Christmas party at work, something I really excited about. Would be great if that comes off. This weekend felt almost normal as I went to an outdoor pop concert and had a boogie. Loved that.

But the biggest missed deadline I have is my own – finishing the writing I started in July. I am determined to pull my finger out and get that big finish done. I have time this weekend so ‘focus Nolan’ and get your finger out on the writing. I know I feel better if I do.

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