Author Archives: Phil

Pitch battle

Writing West MidlandsPhil: We’ve mentioned in the past that one of the trickiest stages in getting a book out there is working out how to pitch it. We know what’s on the pages and reducing this down so it can be explained in the duration of an elevator journey has always proved impossible.

We’re not alone. Nearly everyone who has completed a novel feels the same way. Which bits do you leave out?

Luckily, Writing West Midlands runs a day-long course to help. We both paid up and went along – two heads are better than one after all.

The 14 attendees first had to talk to someone else for two minutes about themselves. Not easy, but I managed it without boring my victim to death. Then we had to do it again. At this stage, the rules said no mentioning your writing.

Then we moved on to proper pitching. Pair up (Candice and I were deliberately and sensibly kept in separate groups) and explain your novel in 2 minutes. Repeat another 3 times to different people.

The repetition is important. Each time you find yourself modifying your pitch to pack more in, or to keep it under the time limit. Doing this several times in quick succession sharpens you up.

After lunch and a pep talk from the tutor, we were back at it again. This time there were another 7 attempts.

I felt I was getting better at this each time. My best effort was 1:53 and that seemed to be pretty good. I’d managed to get the start of the pitch down pretty tightly I thought and as I went around the room, the second half where I tried to include more details of our characters exploits was coming together.

Finally, it was time to pitch to the room. Speaking to the entire group was more of a challenge to most and pitches I’d heard earlier got a bit less focussed when faced with a crowd and no time limit. One thing became apparent as we went through this process, most people were writing literary fiction, not our commercial stuff. I guess that’s no surprise, Arts (with a capital A) organisations like “serious” material. There doesn’t seem to be anyone supporting those who just want to write fun stuff. Maybe there should be.

My effort seemed OK to me, but then Candice had a go and dropped the listener straight into the middle of our first scene. I didn’t feel so clever after that…

It was interesting that our efforts were more performance than a straight pitch. We were selling the book rather than just trying to distil the contents into 350 words. That might be something to do with our backgrounds and past experiences, or just that we are a bit more flamboyant than most. It’s possibly down to the type of book we are selling too. I don’t feel the need to take anyone through the wringer on my pages. That’s not to say you shouldn’t, a couple of the books sounded really interesting but not a light read, it’s just not our style. The tutor also suggested that our book was very filmic in style – something others have said to us. Perhaps we should be pitching a screenplay, but where do you start with that?

Anyway, as far as our pitches go, do we have the right approach? Apparently not quite but we got some pointers at the end and a few things to go and think about, but that’s why you go along to these events.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Storytelling time

Phil: We came, we saw, we read out a few pages of our book.

Last week, at Storytelling Corner, team NolanParker got up on stage and did their best to bring a tiny selection of Kate vs the Dirtboffins alive for the audience.

We’d picked the very first scene Candice wrote when we were still back at the quango. I’d suggested that we read mine too, but this was vetoed as being too dull. As it was, we were on stage talking about pole dancing and the joys of a busy bar full of rugby players when you are wearing a slip of a dress…

Before the event, and during the interval, we were chatting to some of the audience who seemed very interested in how we manage to write as a duo. It seems that this really fascinated people. We’ve explained that neither of us would have completed a book without the other, and even if we had, the result would be very different. I couldn’t put the correct fashion references in for a start!

Candice was full of cold, but we both enjoyed ourselves a lot. Maybe the sugar rush from the excellent cakes eaten before things kicked off helped, but I think it’s that we love appearing before an audience. I really envy authors who find themselves regularly invited to festivals where they get to talk about writing and stories.

For our part, we’d like to do that but also help people to get into writing. As we both said several times, we really enjoy the process, so why shouldn’t everyone share the pleasure?

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Life’s too short for dull books

Phil: I’ve an admission to make. When I resolved to read more earlier this year, I also resolved to do something that would make that easier.

I resolved to give up on books I wasn’t enjoying.

Yes, I know. Every book is the result of hundreds, nay thousands of hours work by an author. They have done their best and part of me says I ought to stick at it and see every book I open through from start to finish.

But, that’s not me any more.

No. If I’m not enjoying a book, it’s heading for the charity pile. I read for pleasure, not because “it is good for me”. I can’t see the point in struggling through a book, especially a book of fiction, if I’m not drawn back to it when I find odd moments free during the day.

I console myself with the thought that not every book suits every reader. The photo shows The Waiter by Matias Faldbakken. Initially, I quite enjoyed the first person perspective of a finicky character happily serving in the same hotel for years. He loves routine and rules and the slightly old-fashioned feel of the place. Then a beautiful woman appears as a guest of one of the regular customers and he falls apart. At this point, I gave up. He would have seen attractive people before, so why was he instantly serving the wrong food to people and collecting unordered drinks?

Reading reviews on-line, it seems I’m not alone. Others love the book and good luck to them.

On the same basis, I’ve just given up on Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. I tried, I really did. This is a classic and it would have been nice to have ticked that box. Sadly, I found it insufferable. To me, it’s a book you find funny because you are TOLD it is funny. Others will doubtless disagree.

As for Gulliver’s Travels – I can only assume it became popular because there was literally nothing else to read.

So, I will read what I enjoy. Does that make me a bad person?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

You gotta fight for your right to story!

Phil: Last week, we explained that neither of us (OK, mostly me) always get our own way when writing.

After the post, the discussion continued. I finished the first draft of the scene I was working on thinking it had been suitably adjusted to take into account my friend’s suggestions.

Apparently not. Or at least she fired back a few more. To be honest, I could see where she was coming from. The feedback made me ponder some aspects and we bashed a few e-mails back and forth. The details aren’t yet sorted out, but we both feel that fundamentally, the scene does what we need at that point in the story.

This might not sound fun, but I feel it’s an important part of our writing.

If you work on your own, the first useful feedback you’ll get will be from an editor. They will challenge you on plot points and the way the story runs. Then it’s up to you to fix things.

We don’t have this. For a plotline to appear in the book, it gets beaten around a bit. Some sections get more of the thrashing than others but the important part is we challenge each other, make each other think AND help with those thoughts. “I’m not sure about THIS, but what if we did THAT.” is a common phrase. We both present problems and solutions. Eventually, even we can’t tell who wrote each scene, which is how it should be.

Two heads are definitely better than one.

1 Comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

The Temperance – a writers retreat

 

Phil: With the NolanParker writing team back in action, we need to find places to meet. Places with Tea. And cake.

In the last few months, a couple of possible venues have opened up in Leamington Spa. One that caught my eye with its retro theme, is The Temperance.

I don’t believe in cluttering up coffee shops with laptops if they aren’t happy to be home to people spending hours working away.  We will buy drinks and food, but people who aren’t composing great works of literature will be quicker in and out and therefore more profitable.

A quick e-mail asking if laptops were OK was swiftly answered with the news that we wouldn’t be the first people bashing out a novel on the premises. In fact, at least one member of staff is an author!

Arriving on a cold Monday morning, we ordered tea and salad sandwiches. These were served in the sort of china my Nan would have approved of. The stuff you drink while holding your pinkie finger aloft!

The sandwiches were delicious, the only complaint being the cake selection was very limited, the previous batch having sold out and new supplies arriving the next day.

For an old-fashioned looking cafe. there were lots of laptops in use, and a couple of people using tables for meetings.

After a bit of chat, we got stuck in. I knocked out 1200 words and Candice started the job of making sure the current manuscript adhered to our timeline.

Very productive.

1 Comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

New Year. New ideas. And cake.

Phil: We’re back!

A trip to a local farm shop cafe and we are stuffing our faces with cake, and talking about writing.

The thing is, our chat ranged far and wide – ending up with some new plans that now just need some polish. Candice has got her research head on and a page full of notes to look at.

Watch this space…

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

I resolve to…

to doPhil: Since la Nolan provided some sensible advice on New Year Resolutions last week, I thought I’d better write mine down to see if they stick. 

1 – Do less work.

No, I’m not being lazy, it’s just that working from home in a job that is also one of my hobbies, the work can expand to fill the time available if I let it. Evenings, weekends, they can all disappear into a maelstrom of doing “stuff”. I need to be more disciplined – not just making sure I take breaks but when I am working, get stuff done. That means lots of planning, writing down clearly defined tasks and ticking things off once they are complete. I can be really focused, but can also drift hopelessly. More of the former and less of the later for 2019.

2 – Promise less

And hopefully, deliver more. Sometimes life can seem like an endless succession of spinning plates that you have to keep going. Jumping between projects is no way to deliver anything of quality and a quick way to disappointing everyone. I love the smell of a new project, it’s just that I’m hopeless at estimating how long it’s going to take me, or how I’ll fit it in with everything else. Better to say do a good job of a few things rather try to do everything and flounder. I’m even worse in my own time, there is a huge backlog of projects sitting in my store. Even if I gave up work completely, it would take years to work through them, but still, I’m “Ohh a shiny new thing” every time I go to a shop…

3 – Go out for more walks.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ll train for a marathon. That’s just setting myself up for a fall. I love walking and it’s good for me. I think I need to develop an appetite for podcasts to listen to as I wander.

4- Read more books.

I’m not too bad at this one so there’s a good chance it will stick. I’ve taken to my local library again in 2018 as I could be confident that I’d find books that suited my mood. There are some that come my way from friends and family, but if I’m not in the right frame of mind for them, I need to go and get the right book rather than not reading because I don’t fancy whatever is on the pile. I don’t really understand why, but if I have a good book on the go, I do seem to achieve more at the same time. Can anyone explain this?

5 – Read fewer magazines, or at least only those that I need to. 

It’s time to tackle the never-ending stream of magazines and periodicals that come my way. At a rough guess, I can see a dozen magazines a month. There’s no way I read all that lot. I need to flick through, read stuff that matters and bin the rest. That and cancel some of the subscriptions for publications that simply aren’t getting read at all.

6 – Sleep more.

Do I need to check Facebook just before I go to sleep? Probably not. Read a book for a bit until I’m properly tired and then get to sleep, that’s the best plan.  Things always look blackest in the depth of the night, so the less lying awake with my brain whirring away I end up doing, the better. Not just more sleep, but better sleep is on the agenda.

Hopefully, all this will allow me to write more novel – a project that I really care about and (mostly) thoroughly enjoy working on. I’m pretty sure a degree of flexibility will be required soon once the other half of this team gets back into the swing of things and we get back up to speed. I don’t want to get that look over the cake when I’ve not done my homework!

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing