Author Archives: Phil

Don’t listen to Instagram

Phil: I love Instagram, but if I hit the magnifying glass icon and start strolling through the random picture feed, I wonder. Suddenly, among all the pictures of Amanda Holden (how does she find the time to do any work?), there are bits of cod psychology from people desperate to say something profound.

“Words are the worst form of communication” was exceptionally special.

For a moment, let us imaging I am heading into my favourite fast-food restaurant. I would like to purchase a Wimpy burger followed by a delicious Brown Derby desert.

How should I convey this information to the person behind the counter?

In the past, I would have said, “I’d like a Wimpy burger, a Brown Derby and cup of tea.”, but according to Instagram, that’s wrong.

So, should I try to convey my order through the medium of interpretive dance?

I don’t know about you, but I find playing Charades takes ages but if we aren’t doing words, that’s pretty much where we are. Heaven knows what happens if I decide to add a Bender in a Bun to the order!

Seriously, we’ve written two and a half books full of words and read thousands of books, also full of words. How could I be so stupid as to realise there was a better way?

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Radio recommendations

Phil: OK, we’re back in lockdown. The message is “stay at home with a paper bag on your head” and the chances to go and sit in a cafe chatting over plot twists for your latest novel have receded into 2022. In the meantime, one of us has become a part-time teacher to her daughter, stealing away valuable writing time.

Anyway, books are a good way to hide from the gloom and doom. For a start, they don’t generally involve listening to Michael Gove, and there’s usually a happy ending. We’ve always recommended reading matter, but now I’m going to take another step and start looking at radio programmes and podcasts that are worth downloading to your phone for entertainment. I like to listen during my allotted hour of exercise – basically going for a walk being careful not to get within 2 metres of anyone not wearing a full-on gimp suit, and several miles of anyone who is.

Before we start, I recommend searching for the BBC Sounds App, it makes this sort of thing so much easier.

Can I talk about heroes?

We’ll start with a serious one. Vicky Foster looks at the way society creates heroes and the nature of heroism. At least that is what the description for the programme says.

The more interesting side is that her ex-partner was killed by the man who later made the news tackling a terrorist on London Bridge with a narwhal tusk. How do you explain to your children that the man who killed daddy is now being lauded by the Prime Minister as a hero?

Download “Can I talk about Heroes” (37 minutes)

 

Austentatious

Now for something funny, or at least it is if you can stand mock versions of Jane Austen, the famous author who died ay 41 fighting in a pigmy goat wrestling competition, without getting huffy about not taking things seriously.

The cast improvises a version of Pride and Prejudice largely based in a fish and chip where we find the usual women looking for a husband. The results are very funny, taking the mickey out of literary tropes, the social morays of the time, and we all like gossip about young ladies…

Settle down for Pride and Bread with this.

Download “Austentatious” (28 minutes)

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

And that was 2020

2020 in the binPhil: So, there we go. 2020 is nearly over, and I don’t think it will be mourned by anyone.

Let’s be honest, it was rubbish. We’d all have been happier to hibernate through the whole thing, and the first six months of 2021 too, I suspect.

Team NolanParker can’t claim to have enjoyed any great success.

Early on, we tidied up both of our books, applied all the proof-reading and removed the typos. All good, but after that March happened, and it all fell apart.

While others were (they claim) learning a new language or developing the ability to make pasta, we just disappeared into the “joys” of ever more work, homeschooling and generally losing all our motivation.

Sadly, our writing mojo is still missing, but at least on a socially-distanced walk in the cold yesterday, we started to look for it. That’s another thing we miss – sitting in a cafe with tea and cake. I’m sure that strolling in the park is good for you, but you can’t use a laptop.

Will 2021 be the year we break through? Will we finally finish our third book?

Does anyone else have hopes and dreams for next year? Please share – you might inspire someone else.

1 Comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Party like it’s 2020!

Phil: Do you know what’s good about 2020?

No office Christmas parties!

No standing around awkwardly pretending to have fun. No wishing you didn’t have to drive home so you could enjoy a drink to dull the pain. No being stuck with colleagues who have partners picking them up so they can drink.

Yes, I know we’re all supposed to love this stuff, but some of us don’t. Can you just not go, leaving the party to those who enjoy it? No. Apparently, it’s the law that you have to turn up for the “fun”. It’s rude (I’m told) to explain that you didn’t choose to be with anyone you work with, it’s only being paid that keeps you in the same room as them. And only the threat of a tedious interview with HR that stops you murdering the lot of them. (I have worked in IT support. You have no idea how much we hated some of our users. No, more than that.)

But 2020 comes along and everyone is working from home. Parties are held via Zoom!

No dancing. Drinking if you want it because, well, you are at home.

And when it’s time to leave say something along the lines of “My Internet is playing up.”, switch the computer off and leave them to it.

In Kate vs The Dirtboffins, our IT nerd Kelvin has a neat party trick. He pretends to take an urgent phone call when he needs to get away. That wasn’t my invention, party monster Nolan came up with that, but if we are ever allowed into the same room as other people, I’ll remember it.

As it is, meet-ups via Zoom have worked very well this year. My circle of regular drinking buddies has grown now we no longer have to worry about geography. Yes, I miss visiting a pub, but even my annual nerds trip to London boozers has a virtual stand-in this year. It won’t be the same, but at least we won’t be jostling out on the pavement in the cold. And the beer is cheaper.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Lock-down reading

Phil: The Parker book pile was getting thin a few weeks ago. Somehow Divorced and Deadly ended up in it. Spying “Fast-paced and fun-packed” on the cover, I gave it a try.

The “story” follows the post-divorce life of Ben. He establishes himself as a narcissist almost immediately – the divorce came about when his wife caught him in bed with another woman, something he thought was “a bit of fun”.

Moving back in with his parents, including murderously crazy mother, he quickly moves out again to a flat with his best mate, Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants. Yes, that’s his name, and it’s repeated many, many times through the book. A joke that doesn’t get wearing at all…

Apparently, the book is based on a series of real stories that appeared on the author’s blog. It’s written in a diary-style with a series of incidents rather than a traditional narrative.

The result is a bit like a traditional British farce. Unbelievable situations escalate quickly and preposterously. Trousers fall down. Arses are exposed.

None of the characters make much sense. Some of them, such as his ex-wife who seems to devote her life to following him around and hiding in bushes (yes, really) don’t sound very grounded in reality. I’m not even sure why she’s in the book as nothing much happens with her unless you consider a “hilarious” hosepipe squirting incident.

I nearly gave up on this in less than a chapter, but with few other options, I stuck with it. To be fair, it is fast-paced but when you can’t connect with a single character, it’s a little difficult to care.

One for the charity shop book pile rather than the shelf of your library at home. Thank goodness a recent meet-up with the Nolan restocked my shelves!

(In case you think I’m being harsh, once I wrote this, I checked the reviews. Oh dear.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Are you Doomscrolling?

TwitterPhil: 2020 might have been rubbish for many things, but it’s produced a fertile crop of new words for us to make use of.

Ask me in 2019 what the “R Number” is, and like most people, I wouldn’t have had a clue. It’s the same for “T Cells”. “Furlough” is something to do with horse racing, “bubbles” are what you blow and talking of blowing, that’s what a “circuit-breaker” did in the cupboard under the stairs next to the electricity meter.

Suddenly, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, we have a whole new lexicon, and boy don’t we employ it? I wonder what our 2019 selves would think if they heard pretty much any conversation we have had this year.  Not for us the finer points of I’m a Celebrity, no, we talk about The Pandemic.

All. The. Time.

Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I talked to someone for more than about ten minutes without Covid rearing its ugly molecules in some form or another.

Which brings me on to my favourite new phrase – Doomscrolling.

This is the act of browsing the web looking for ever more apocalyptic news.

Humans are evolved to do this. Caveman Phil would want to be aware of the presence of danger, so he could do something about it. A new painting on the wall that said “Look out for the sabre-tooth tiger” would be useful.I would read this and my brain would give itself a little shot of dopamine to tell me I had learned something useful. Hopefully, not to hang around and be eaten.

Today though, we have mobile phones and Twitter. Endless hours can be spent searching out the latest bad news or getting annoyed at those who fail to see the sense of our position. If you want lockdown, there is always someone who wants a harder lockdown and is competitive about it. Think it’s all made up? Don’t worry, someone has an even better conspiracy for you to wallow in.

But this stuff is addictive. Every bit of terrible news provides the dopamine jolt and so we go hunting for the next gloomy prediction. Sadly, our brains can’t work out that this is bad for us, because they are enjoying the drugs.

What a problem this is going to be for writers in the future. How are you going to set a drama in 2020 and not bore the pants of people with endless virus talk? If you don’t, everyone will know just how unrealistic your words are – so you won’t be able to win either way.

And how will chick-lit survive? Maybe those furtive looks over the top of a mask are a start, but if your characters aren’t allowed within two metres of each other, the romance is going to fade pretty quickly.

She might find the man of her dreams, but can they get into each other’s bubbles?

1 Comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

I’m living in a computer game

 

Phil: I’ve never been properly into computer games. Truth is, I don’t have the reflexes, nor the enthusiasm for killing things for first-person shooters, and can’t be bothered to spend hours getting involved with the more complex ones.

Many years ago, I did quite enjoy a game on my ZX Spectrum called Tir Na Nog. Cast in the role of Cuchulainn, you are required to mooch around the afterlife in an effort to reunite the pieces of the Seal of Calum.

Basically, you wandered around in what was, for the time, a very impressive graphical environment. Your character moved fluidly, the background scrolled and it was all very nice. I never got into the purpose of the adventure, instead, finding my own amusement.

By pacing out the complex road system, and filling these in on a massive sheet of graph paper, I was able to draw up a very accurate map. This satisfied me enormously, and I didn’t even mind when similar maps appeared in computer magazines. I had done it and they just proved I was right.

Those days of pacing a digital road system came back to me every time I go for a stroll. I’ve become very familiar with the roads and pathways near where I live. Thanks to not being allowed to go anywhere interesting for nine months, the challenge has been to create a bit of variety in my routes. While walks are lovely, the scenery is a bit monotonous now.

It’s a bit like my computerised wandering, except without having to spend seven minutes loading your walk from a cassette. Every slightly different side-road becomes an adventure. Gradually, I am building a mind map (I’m not using the graph paper, human strides not being as consistent as computer ones, anyway, I have Google maps) of even the more complex housing estates nearby. There isn’t really any point in this other than taking me away from staring at a computer screen, but then there isn’t really much point in anything nowadays.

Maybe I just need to be grateful that life is a bit Tir Na Nog rather than Space Invaders!

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

The Little Cottage in Lantern Square

Hannah went from high flyer in the city to the business owner and has never looked back. In the cosy Cotswold village of Butterbury she runs Tied up with String, sending handmade gifts and care packages across the miles, as well as delivering them to people she thinks need them the most.

Phil: I’ve just had a revelation. Literally, as I searched for the bit of blurb above, I also found this:

The Little Cottage in Lantern Square is the collected Lantern Square novellas.

NOW it makes sense.

You see, while this is a pleasant, undemanding read, there were a couple of niggles.

The first is my usual financial concern. Houses on the green in a Cotswold village are going to be painfully expensive. They are not where you end up when looking for somewhere cheap to live because your entire income is based on sending luxury care packages out in the post. They are also not where you live when running a business that will need large quantities of products to go in said packages, not to mention the masses of wrapping and packing consumables. What you want is a barn, not the cottage dining room.

Mind you, Hannah, our lead character, did work in accountancy in “the city” for a while and therefore we assume she earned a mahoosive amount of money to fund this. We assume that anyway because we’re going to need to suspend belief. Am I the only person who thinks like this? I keep reading books where the numbers (to me) don’t add up.

“Stop being so nerdy” I hear you cry, “It’s fiction. Let it go.”

Fair enough, it was only a niggle. The bigger issue, but one explained when we realise this is a collection of novellas, is that there are cliff-hangers through the book that are almost immediately resolved at the start of the next chapter.

Often they take the form of us being told that HANNAH HAS A SECRET. Yes, we are told she has several, but not told what each is until later. One early SECRET is divulged to another character, and we aren’t in on the conversation. This is annoying, to me at least.

All of this doesn’t change the fact that I liked Hannah. She is, in chick-lit terms, a real person. She has a believable backstory, once we get to find out about it. She works too hard. She has doubts. She does nice, and believable things. Most of the time, when I read this sort of thing, I want to shout at our lead on occasion, but not this time.

OK, the supporting cast could be from an episode of Midsommer Murders, by which I mean they are a bit cartoony slotting neatly into various stereotypes, but that doesn’t matter. If you want gritty drama, then this isn’t the book for you. If this was TV it would be a warm Sunday evening drama. Perfect soothing reading.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Sandi Toksvig and my London dream

Phil: As someone much more important than me once said, I have a dream.

I dream of living in London, but on my terms.

I’ll have a nice apartment near Marylebone station. My day will be spent pottering around the capital visiting galleries and museums. I’ll meet up with my (technically, our, but I’m doing the pottering) editor for lunch in a nice restaurant. Occasionally, I’ll head over to the BBC where I’ll be in demand for the occasional appearance on Question Time or a Radio 4 show to dazzle everyone with my wit and wisdom.

My clothes will be of the finest quality. My shoes hand-made. The sort of clobber that lasts forever and is best described (by me) as timeless and by someone I know as boring.

All this came to mind as I read Sadi Toksvig’s memoir Between the Stops.

The book hangs around the number 12 bus route, which our author likes to take from home to work. I like this, because I also love a bus ride in London. I enjoy looking at the capital as it passes by, and in my dream, I’ll reguarily get out and visit the more interesting shops I spot. Visit and not feel intimidated at walking in the door.

It’s a very unconventional memoir – we learn about Sandi’s life, but also some history of London. It’s a place with a lot of past to learn about, much of it fascinating and frequently grueome.

Anger plays a big part in our literary journey as it’s pointed out that very few women seem to rate a mention on the road signs or anywhere else. It’s not that women have never made their mark on history, just that the bar for memorials is a lot lower for men.

So we get a mix of life stories, showbiz annecdotes, politics, femanism and history. Quite a mix and I enjoyed it. There’s no showing off as in a tradtional autobiography and it’s not all looking at the past either. The future is just as important or at least making sure the future is a good deal more equal than the past.

Apart from the famanism and lesbianism, Sandi is living my dream. I mean my dream doesn’t include any misogyny and I’m inclined to agree that a few more women being commemorated would be a good thing and many of the men slipping into history would not be a bad thing, no matter how much the Daily Mail readers (Sandi has good reason to hate that paper) might howl. As for the lesbian thing, it’s just another on the list of things I don’t qualify for.

Of course, my dream is just that. The apartment I fancy is £1.6m and the BBC aren’t hammering on my door. A London publisher would be nice, but I bet they don’t pay enough for the hand-made shoes.

I do have the boring clothes though.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

The Giver of Stars

Alice Wright doesn’t love her new American husband.

Nor her domineering father-in-law or the judgmental townsfolk of Baileyville, Kentucky.

Stifled and misunderstood, she yearns for escape and finds it in defiant Margery O’Hare and the sisterhood bringing books to the isolated and vulnerable.

But when her father-in-law and the town turn against them, Alice fears the freedom, friendship and the new love she’s found will be lost . . .

Phil: So much, so chick-lit. Readers will know Jojo Moyes from her bestseller Me Before You. It was an enjoyable read, but could possibly have been described as an excellent idea, competently carried out.

The Giver of Stars is on the face of it, quite a pedestrian idea, but the execution is superb.

Set in 1937, the story centres on new British bride, Alice. She has married into an American family in an effort to escape the stifling life she sees ahead of her. The marriage is not happy for many reasons, but she finds escape joining a band of women operating a horseback library, bringing books to the remote townspeople in Kentucky.

The synopsis on the back of the book suggests something full of lurve, but that’s the least important storyline. What strikes the reader is this is a world very different from today.

Women were expected to know their place. Marriage meant becoming your husband’s possession and not answering him back. You didn’t take a job unless you were poor, and there was poverty on a scale we don’t really understand today.

Power was in the hands of a small number of people and they generally seemed to abuse it. As for being the “wrong” colour, then you could aspire to very little in life. We even see racism and hypocrisy making a dangerous cocktail.

Overall though, this is a book about strong women. Women who don’t sit back and let the world wash over them. That probably sells less well than the love story promoted by the publisher, but it’s an important part of the story. You might even call it “feminism by stealth”. For many people, it will open their eyes to how far womens rights have deservedly advanced, and how easy it would be to lose those gains.

When I started reading, it took me a few chapters to get into this book. By the end, I knew I was looking forward to handing it over to my book buddy. I think Candice is going to feel the same, I’m confident she’ll enjoy it, and it’s always a pleasure to hand over a book you know someone else will love.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing