Author Archives: Phil

How general elections happen

Downing Street
The scene. Downing Street. The Prime Ministers office.

A telephone rings.

“Hello. Theresa May here.”

“Mornin’ Tezza. ”

“Errr, good morning. Sorry, who is calling?”

“It’s me Tezza. Candice. You don’t know me, but I have a bit of a proposition for you.”

“A proposition? Is it about Brexit? I’m a bit busy at the moment.

“Brexit? Naaaah. This is much more serious.”

“More serious than Brexit? Not Trump? What’s he done now?”

“Don’t be daft. It’s about a book, and that idiot probably hasn’t read any.”

“Well, I errrr.”

“Basically Tezza. I’ve got a book to sell and it would help me enormously if you could do one of those general election things.”

“Sorry. You want me to call a general election to help you sell a book?”

“That’s about the size of it. Don’t worry, there’s a bit of wedge in it for you.

“I’m sorry, I don’t see how that would help. Surely everyone will be too busy reading our election pamflets to bother with fiction?”

“I don’t think so. Besides, if we are talking about fiction and political pamflets…”

“Very funny. I still don’t see how an election helps.”

“Let’s just say that when your book came about ‘cos that muppet Gove sacked the greatest writers wot England has ever produced after an election, then the medja are much more interested in our story, especially when the alternative is some numpty in a suit banging on about policies an’ stuff.”

“Ahh. Good thinking.”

“I knew you’d see sense. Shall we say a score?”

“A score? I’m afraid young lady, and I’m assuming that despite sounding like an effeminate Danny Dyer, you are a young lady, I’d want at least a monkey.”

“Ooo you callin’ and effeminate Danny Dyer? Listen lady, you might hold your little finger up when drinking a cup of the old rosie but I know what’s what. A pony at most.”

“A pony? In cash.”

“Cash. No questions asked.”

“Oh go on then. It’s better than having to look at Corbyn every Wednesday anyway.”

“Good Gell. You know it makes sense.”

*

And that, ladies and gentlemen is why the UK is having a snap general election. It’s all part of our plans for world domination.

Please note: None of the characters in this scene are related to real people. Any resemblance is purely coincidental. I have to say that or Candice will kill me.

 

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How many chapters is enough?

Phil: We’re making excellent progress with Book 2 – but the 80,000 word target is still bugging us as we aren’t there yet.

“If something doesn’t move the story forward, leave it out.” is the traditional advice to writers, but we’re wondering if we have been too efficient. There’s been a lot of planning in the book, lessons learned from last time, and it’s pretty fat-free. I can’t see anyone lopping a thousand words out this time!

So, we are looking hard and thinking about areas that need fleshing out. An obvious problem is that while we know what certain people and places look like, it would be really helpful if we told the reader. Several scenes have now been enlivened by a bit of description, adding many hundred of words in the process.

Last Friday we sat down in an excellent farm shop cafe with the laptops intending to do some writing. And eat some cake, but mostly to do some writing.

What we actually did was to go through the book as it stands and write a timeline. Candice skimmed each chapter and I typed the synopsis into a spreadsheet. We created an overview of the story which included a surprise.

49 chapters.

That’s the not the end though. Some of those included far too many scenes. Later in the day I broke them up and we now have 56.

I don’t think this is a problem. Personally, I like short chapters. When reading I can think I’ll just finish another one before putting the bookmark back in. If it’s half-a-dozen pages then I might be tempted to do just one more. If it’s 30 then forget it. Short chapters add pace to the story.

Anyway, the upshot is that our overview revealed not too many plot holes. The book is nearly ready for its first test readers…

 

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Work where you want to

 

Phil: We are hard at work writing Kate vs the Navy and are grabbing any chance we get to put a few words onto the page.

Last weekend I was on a stand at a model boat show and knowing it would be reasonably quiet on the Sunday, took my laptop along. Fitting on the corner of our stand, appropriately enough, I was working while surrounded by miniature waterborne military craft. It helped too as Candice had left me some ship describing to do and from where I sat, I could see a model of the very vessel I was writing about. Very handy indeed!

 

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Tom Swifty

Phil: Great excitement! I’ve discovered a new type of pun!

I love a bit of wordplay and have wasted many hours at work over the years punning with colleagues. As I recall, any mention of fish usually resulted in five minutes of amusement. Partly at our sparkling wit but also at the groans of those people who think puns are the lowest form of humour.

Anyway, I was listening to the radio the other day and someone mentioned “Tom Swiftie” puns.

According to Wikipedia, A Tom Swifty (or Tom Swiftie) is a phrase in which a quoted sentence is linked by a pun to the manner in which it is attributed.

For example:

“That’s the last time I’ll stick my arm into a lion’s mouth,” the lion-tamer said off-handedly.

“I need a new pencil sharpener”, said Phil bluntly.

“I wonder if this radium is radioactive?” asked Marie curiously.

“Walk this way,” Tom said stridently.

“The exit is right there,” Candice pointed out.

I could go on, but have found a web page with 400 examples if you need more.

Just look out for those I manage to sneak into Book 2…

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Waving a workhorse goodbye

Phil: Last week I said goodbye to a faithful companion. After years of service, it was time to upgrade my computer.

I’ve been putting this off for a long while. The old one worked OK and apart from a hard drive crash, did all I asked of it. I’m not exactly a demanding user, some wordy processing, photo editing and web browsing were all required. The operating system might have dated to the early part of this century, but at least it wasn’t the applaing, unusable Windows 8.

The silicon sands of computer time moved on of course. Gradually I found web browsers weren’t available and when even Firefox said they wouldn’t support Windows Vista any more, then I knew the game was up. To be honest, the camera card reading ports on the front were playing up too and for the work I do, this is serious.

A final nudge was a chunk of cash from work over Christmas arriving in my bank account. Off I strolled to the local computer shop I went to discuss some options. Mostly those that involved them, not me, transferring data between the two machines. Another barrier to upgrades was the anticipated “joy” of moving files and tidying up afterwards. Two days frustrating work normally.

Anyway, the day dawned and I dropped my old computer in. Our arrangement was that they would move the e-mail over (£10 well spent) and install the old hard drive in the new box in addition to a couple of others. On the experts advice, I have all my software on an SSD drive for whizzo performance and all the data on a conventional drive for easy backup. One of the benefits of using a trusted local store is that someone brighter than a sofa can advise me.

Leaving the old box behind, I couldn’t help feeling sorry. On this computer I have types millions of words. One and half novels, hundred of magazine articles and thousands of blog posts. There is no more important a tool available to me. Without it, I’m lost, unemployable and broke. With it, I can access the world and communicate. That old PC has served me well for years, day in, day out, and now it will be stripped for parts and recycled.

Yes, I know it’s only a machine. I just get a bit sentimental that’s all.

Now I have a new black box on the desk. It runs Windows 10, which I don’t hate but it’s not as good as Windows 3.11. The front ports work, boot-up doesn’t take 5 minutes and the desktop shows slides from past holidays. At the moment my life is like moving into a new house. I know everything is there, I just can’t always put my hand on the file I want straight away. Organisation is taking place and eventually things will be where I want them. Eventually old box will be forgotten.

For the moment though, thank you old friend.

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So THAT’S what the song is all about.

Phil: Last week, Candice was blogging about one of her earliest favourite albums – Phil Collins “No Jacket Required” and by coincidence, I was listing to a show on the radio about one of mine.

1985 saw the release of Suzanne Vega’s eponymous first album and to promote it, the first single “Marlene on the Wall” enjoyed heavy rotation on Radio 1. What I should have done is rushed out and bought the album, but in those days, my local library loaned proper vinyl albums out so I simply borrowed it and made a tape using my sisters record player and the tape recorder I used for my ZX Spectrum. Obviously this is bad so don’t do it kids. As they said at the time, “Home taping is killing music” even if the phrase “It tapes tapes” appeared on every stereo system in my mum’s catalogues at the time.

Anyway, while I liked the songs and the imagery, the inspiration for the lyrics was always a bit of a mystery. Until I heard Johnnie Walker’s Long Players last week. The program covered the album track by track with explanations of each from Vega.

Much of it was slightly disappointing, stuff about songs being something to do with whoever she was dating at the time but for pure weirdness, the track “Small Blue Thing” wins.

Inspiration struck when she saw the blue doorknob in a boyfriends apartment. In the centre of the knob (stop sniggering at the back) was the image of a blue eyeball. All of which inspired the opening lines:

Today I am
A small blue thing
Like a marble
Or an eye

Utter barking mad, but oddly, still sounds good today.

So, songwriter, get down to the ironmonger’s for your next hit. It just shows, ideas can come from anywhere.

Mind you, if you think this is oddball, I’m working out how to shoehorn a Lieutenant Pigeon joke into our latest book just to see if anyone spots it…

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Research, research

m33

Phil: I’ve never been in the navy. In fact most of my ideas about our senior service are planted by listening to many episodes of The Navy Lark.

When writing “Kate vs the Navy”, it occurs to me that I ought to do a little more research to try to, if not be wholly accurate (this is fiction after all) at least base some of the story in reality.

As it happens, last weekend was my dad’s birthday and so the family went to the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth. Once there, your ticket allows access to all sorts of interesting places. Number one was the Mary Rose, which I remember watching emerge from the deep while I was at school. It’s now dried out and on display, although no progress has been made on restoring it so no chance of a trip around the bay…

storageRather more use was a visit to HMS M.33, a Monitor, or small battleship with a flat bottom and big(ish) guns. While not exactly the sort of ship we have in our book, it’s better than nothing and certainly more relevant than any ferry I’ve been on.

Wandering through the steel corridors and rooms, it all looked exactly as I’ve seen in countless old war films. Not welcoming in any way and with some interesting, and from a narrative point of view, useful places for those not in the navy to come unstuck.

This wasn’t the main useful nugget of information that came out of the visit however. Did you know that Portsmouth dockyard used to be home to 300 cats? No, we didn’t either, but now we do, ideas are flowing…

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