Category Archives: Books

Who’s that Girl by Mhairi McFarlane

Phil: The moment you read that title, you heard the Eurithmics in your head didn’t you?

Well, I did. Presented with the book by Candice over cake, I wasn’t sure. It looked very chick-lit, but I know she wouldn’t be shoving anything rubbish my way so I gave it a go.

We first meet Edie at a wedding. During the day, just after the speeches, the groom decides to snog her. The bride spots this and things all fall apart.

Friends and colleagues not only abandon her, but thanks to the joys of social media (this is very much a book set NOW), they gang up and start bullying her. Leaving London for the family home in Nottingham, she has to face a father who has never really recovered from the death of her mother and a sister to hates her. That and getting used to not being in the capital.

The move north is partly engineered by her boss and involves ghost writing a celeb biography for the latest blokey hot totty from something that sounds a lot like Game of Thrones. He’s filming in the city, doesn’t want the autobiog written due to a secret in his past.

Basically, everyone has secrets (Edie wasn’t having an affair with the groom, but was flirting) and needs to take control of their lives. So much so standard. If I tell you any more, then SPOILERS.

What sets this apart is it’s a very modern book. We get loads of social media and also old-skool media problems. A row in a nightclub with the totty results in Edie being identified in the papers as a mystery woman attached to him. This gives her vile and bitchy workmates a chance to sell their stories. There are loads of communication channels, including an internal e-mail system that provides the chance for some blackmail and they all help to build the pressure on our main characters in a way that you don’t see in most books.

Even the ending, while leaving room for a sequel, is convincing and plays like grown-ups making decisions. Not very chick-lit at all, in a good way.

Not living in a metropolitan bubble, I found some of the workmate characters hard to relate to. They are bitchy and quite frankly, childish. Some of the actions are more playground bullying than proper adult behaviour – however, that’s because I live in a different, and probably considerably less well paid, world. That said, I enjoyed the book a lot. It’s a proper page turner with plenty of twists and turns along the way. The main characters all develop and change during the story and lots of loose ends get tied up in a way that satisfies the reader.

Lots of short chapters too which builds the pace and, as I found, keeps you reading. Not quite enough to persuade me to take that girly cover on a train mind you, even though by that point I really wanted too!


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Navigating your way to publishing success

Phil: While might be blisteringly succesful with our writing, I banked another £1.56 from sales earlier, we are both still interested in the whole publishing world. With this in mind, I attended a seminar at Stratford Lit Fest last week looking at the continuing changes in the industry. An interesting hour, which provided some welcome pointers.

  • Series sell better than 1 off novels. Readers prefer to invest in something that isn’t a one-off story.
  • Sales don’t really kick in until book 3 or 4. This seems pretty consistent – it worked for Harry Potter after all.
  • Differential pricing works. Price book 1 cheap to get people hooked and then offer the follow-ups at full price
  • Publishers are using e-books as a slush pile and picking up the best-selling ones. Traditional submissions still exist but more and more they are letting sales on-line handle some of the filtering process for them. Why read a thousand poor manuscripts when you can just cherry pick something other people already like and has a proven track record of sales?
  • The biggest trend is authors selling direct to readers. 9 out of 10 members of the Independent Publishers Group are doing this at events.
  • To sell non-fiction, try relevant special interest groups or sports bodies. They may be willing to offer grants to help pay for the work. At the least, they will offer a route to a potential audience.
  • Authors can go to the London Book Fair in April, it’s not trade only any more and there are seminars worth attending.
  • Quality matters. Do not launch without a professional edit. Likewise, get someone who knows the market to design the cover and don’t get upset if they reject your ideas on this.

Of the 40 people in the room, 1 had traditionally published and 2, including. me had self published. Only half the room seemed to be working on a book at the moment which makes me wonder why they had given up a Wednesday evening to find out about publishing.

Anyway, from this, I took that we are doing the right thing. Once Kate vs the Navy launches we are another book towards big sales. The point about the covers was well made too, long-term readers will know that we changed ours at the suggestion of our publisher to something more market-friendly. As a bonus, it’s more bloke friendly too, I’ve been reading something with an overly chick-lit cover recently and couldn’t bring myself to finish it on a train ride…

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Kate vs the Dirtboffins paperback – Out Today!


A big day today – Kate vs the Dirtboffins, the funniest novel you will read this year – IS OUT IN PAPERBACK!

Yes, you can head on down to your local Waterstones and order a real, physical copy for £7.99.

Check it out on the Waterstones website.

Or, if you are reading this at your desk and it’s wet outside, go to Amazon.

Check it out on the Amazon website.

And if you want the cheaper option, they have the Kindle version – and you can read our reviews!

Or if you’d like a signed copy, drop me an e-mail and I’ll sort it out post free.

That’s Christmas sorted then!

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History repeats itself


Phil: Life is funny isn’t it?

Many years ago, I used to be an obsessive visitor to my little local library. I’d head straight into the children’s section and delight in picking interesting looking books from the shelves. My default choice would be stories of the Famous Five by Enid Blyton. I read each book more than once. The Kirrin Island one never seemed popular with other borrowers so I know it cam home with me many times in lieu of anything better.

Decades later, I’m back.

This time the reading is rather more adult. Candice introduced me to David Baldacci and I find that there are several of his books on the shelf. I know I’m going to work my way through all these.

But I can. That’s what’s so wonderful about a library. And that hasn’t changed in years.

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When God was a Rabbit. Great title.

rabbitgodPhil: If you want shelf appeal, your book needs a great title. “When God was a Rabbit” by Sarah Winman certainly has that. Who can look at it in the bookshop and not be intrigued?

The story revolves around Eleanor Maud who we first encounter as a young child and then follow through her life, or at least big chunks of it with a gap in the middle. Elly is a precocious narrator, quoting Nietzsche at age 7. We progress through various episodes in her life which I think are supposed to form some sort of cohesive whole. Trouble is, I’ve read the book and still don’t know what was going on.

Part 1 is quite pleasantly written. There are a few never explained anomalies such as her best friend pulling a 50p coin from the future from her arm or a hint of child abuse, but generally I followed the story of her family moving to Cornwall to set up a guest house courtesy of a football pools win. God in this instance really is a rabbit – specifically Elly’s pet.

It’s a nice read. I could suspend disbelief to handle the characters, despite several who seem to make little sense such as the gay film star aunt who is apparently always nipping off to star in some epic but doesn’t seem to be famous. Elly’s brother is gay (as is pretty much everyone else it seems), and every time he has a shag, his sister seems to catch him in the act. No wonder he’s a bit messed up in part 2.

And part 2 is more of a problem. We find Elly now a journalist but the sort of writer who flies around the world while not actually doing anything productive. She has a flat in London but often nips over to see her sibling in New York. Apparently you can fund this on a weekly newspaper column.

By the time the September 11 attacks were shoehorned in to the narrative, I was starting to lose patience. There was plot that didn’t fit the story and if I’m feeling unkind, could have been dropped in at the request of an editor demanding a longer page count. I imagine a wall full of Post-It notes with random sensational scenes (child dressed as baby Jesus killed in the nativity play?) on but no-one bothering to suggest picking the best and then linking them together. Instead, everything is crammed into the pages, everything except a plot.

I think we are supposed to travel through the series of only lightly constructed vignettes and find something profound about childhood and growing up, friendships and families, triumph and tragedy and everything in between. But I only know this because it’s written on the back of the cover. Mind you, “Includes extra material for reading groups” is also on the cover and that’s not in the copy I read.

What’s weird is that while I didn’t really like this book, I quite enjoyed reading it. Maybe that’s enough for the literary reviewers, or maybe they were dazzled by the authors work as an actress (2 years in Holby City! 3 years in The Bill!) but there are plenty of good reviews out there and the book has received 4 awards including the Newton First Book Award and Writer of the Year in 2011. Best of all, Richard & Judy picked it as one for their summer book club – a guarantee of bucket loads of sales.

Presumably I’m missing something very profound, but I would have liked an explanation of that 50p.


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Meet the readers

NolanParker signPhil: Team NolanParker is back in marketing mode. With our appearance at Stratford Literary Festival next month we’re working out what we need to say, and then where else we could say it.

In our heads we know that you can’t sit behind a computer and expect to sell a book. The music industry has already discovered that the money is in concerts putting artists in front of their fans. The book industry has found a similar thing – how else do you explain the growth in festivals, all of whom are promoting “star” authors?

People like to be entertained and in the book world, that means sitting in the same room as an author and watching the writing monkey dance.

Now we aren’t stars yet, so we need to take a different tack. What we have done is publish a book. Yes I know that loads of people have done that, but there are many times more who think they’d like to do this and will turn out to meet someone promising to tell them how to do it.

Let’s face it, the whole self-help industry is based on a small number of people dangling the prospect of an improved life in front of others who hope that the next book or lecture will be the one that solves their problems without them having to change anything.

Cynical I know, but practical too.

Anyway, once we’ve lit fested, we’re wondering who else we can go and talk to. How do you snag a booking to go and talk to a group of interested people? It’s easy if you are famous, the group will approach your agent with money and all will be fine.

Once we solve this, there is another task – making the best out of the session. From a commercial point of view.

With that in mind, we’ve just signed with Clink Street Publishing to produce physical copies of our book. Our versions were OK but they don’t look as professional as we’d like. Therefore we’ve followed the path trodden by other authors of our acquaintance and gone to a professional for professional services. Best of all, once complete, readers can head into proper bookshops like Waterstones or WH Smiths and order our book!

This means when we meet people, we have the chance to flog them a book. T-shirts and badges with out faces on can come later.

First though, we need to sort out some bookings. Anyone know some groups who fancy an hour or so’s entertainment with a literary feel?

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Books for children

Phil: Last week saw World Book Day so Candice asked on Twitter “Whats your favourite children’s book” sending around a few of our favourite authors. And me.

Daisy Waugh was first with a reply – The Secret Garden. My favourite book ever, inc. all the others, except mine

Which is interesting. How many of us, if asked for our top ten books, would include something we fell in love with as a child?

Julia Crouch came back with – Winnie the Pooh. I re-read it last month, and it’s still glorious.

Of course a good book is a good book no matter how old you are.

Polly Courtney’s daughter is only a couple of years old, so much more up to date – If I delegated this Q to my daughter, she would say Peppa Pig. Or more accurately, “Gekka!”

It seems that Peppa is the darling of the 2 year olds as Candice admitted  – We love peppa in out house. sent her to nursery with chicken licken today.

Now I think I might be responsible for Nolan Jnrs Chicken Licken interest. My mum tells me I used to drive her mad asking for it to be read to me many times a day. The story involves Chicken-Licken, Foxy-Loxy, Henny-Penny, Ducky-Lucky, Draky-Laky and co. So for her first birthday, the young Nolan received a copy. I’m chuffed she likes it, or maybe mom has sent it hoping it will be lost in transit!

Ron Sinclair is more pragmatic – hmm depends on age band! Mr Men books for younger ones, Discworld books for older!

Discworld is a series I’ve never been able to get into. I don’t know why but young Phil might have been different. Many hours were spend playing Fighting Fantasy books and I suspect that the satirical fantasy world of Terry Pratchett would have appealed greatly. I might even have read Harry Potter.

paddleAs it was, I’ve plumped, not for Thomas the Tank engine as you might expect, but Paddle-to-the-Sea. It’s a lovely story about a carved wooden Indian in his canoe released into the great lakes by a child who carves him. Each stage of Paddle’s journey is illustrated with a big watercolour and often footnotes explaining some of the things he encounters along the way. Both educational and entertaining, I’ve loved the idea of toys going on a journey and wondering what they would get up to ever since.

And Candice? I always loved the Faraway Tree series. Escapism is my thing.

I’d never heard of these despite being a devotee of Enid Blyton as a child. I read all the Famous Five books several times and probably all the Secret Seven too. Was I deprived?

And what is your favourite children’s book?

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