Category Archives: fashion

What do you call a posh bird ?

Olivia 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.

Phil: Olivia is the anti-Kate in our world. Everything Kate is, she isn’t. One loves the country, the other can’t stand the idea of mud on her shoes.

She doesn’t play a large part in our book at present, her first meeting (and mating) with Gareth was edited out as holding up the early part of the story despite being very funny. However, she does still pop up occasionally, mainly to help define Gareth for the reader.  The only problem is her name. You see we also have a character called Olive – who does play a big part in the tale. Neither of us had spotted the similarity between the two names but a couple of the test readers did and found it a touch confusing.

In our heads, there are very different people. We see them different and never confused them but if this book is going to be read by more than a small circle then these things need sorting out. Therefore Olivia needs a new name.

But what should it be ? We’ve bashed ideas around over tea and cake but can’t settle on one that seems right. It needs to be short, ruling out Jocasta or Arabella, the two poshest names I could come up with. The name must have gravitas and age too, Chelsea is too modern and to be honest, too chavy.

The Trumpington-Thomases are a very old family. They doubtless consider the Queen an icon but perhaps a little too German. After all, they can trace their lineage back many generations before her lot pitched up on our shores. They have a family pew in the local church and sit there every Sunday safe in the knowledge that their relatives are beneath them in the family crypt.

These are people who don’t consider fashion. Their gel will be called something traditional. She will live in a world of livestock, sensible shoes, voting Tory, tweed, titles, leaky old houses, aged Land Rovers and wax jackets that might come from Barbour, but because they last for years rather than trendiness. Years ago, she might have been a debutant but not one of the really pretty ones. Tom Sharpe fans should think Lady Maud rather than Pippa Middleton.

Anyway, you get the idea. We need help so are throwing the floor open to suggestions in the comment section please. Let’s see what the fertile minds on the Interweb can come up with.



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Correspondent Trainers

Phil: With all this talk of shoes, I’ve been feeling a bit left out. I wear shoes, but like most men, my shoes come in Black and Brown plus trainers. We actually play on this in the book, describing Gareth as a man more familiar with the concept of not wearing brown in town than modern business practises. It’s a motto I subscribe to, for work my choice has been the classic 3-eye Doc Martin in black – for at least 12 years ! If you ordered Candice that she wear the same style of shoe for that length of time, the only black thing would be your eye…

As I pondered this glumly, I looked down and inspiration struck. Trainers. Not the sort da kidz wear, I’m far too old, and I flatter myself, sensible, to be told what to wear by Dr Nike. No I mean what I used to like to think of as my correspondent trainers.

I can’t remember when I bought these but it was a few years ago. They come from Lands End and were probably in a sale. I picked them because they fitted.

The colour is a sort of dark beige, probably refered to as “stone” which has mellowed thanks to wear and tear – they certainly aren’t “box fresh” but at least I don’t have to worry they will survive a ten minute walk in a car park. The welt extends up across the toe cap and heel giving them a sort of two colour look. Now, I read somewhere that two colour shoes are nicknamed “correspondent shoes” so I always considered these to be “correspondent trainers”.

Needless to say I got it wrong.

The term is actually Co-respondent shoes (Spectator shoe for American readers). A co-respondent is someone named in a divorce petition, in this case the sort of chap who can find himself labeled a cad or bounder. He probably has a moustache and drives an open top Jaguar. Such a despicable fellow will have a preference for the sort of flash footwear that your good honest, hard-working gentleman would consider beneath the pale. The shoes are easily remembered by hotel staff when left outside the room for cleaning while he and the object of his attention are inside doing the dastardly deed.

So my footwear are actually co-respondant trainers. All I need now is some top lip fur, a suitable open top sporty number and develop a raffish persona.

Which makes me think of characters for the next book. Perhaps not though, I think our two leading ladies would eat him alive !


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Mr Kelly

Fish TieAndrew looked at the faces of the crowd before him. Everyone was a mixture of misery and defeat. Hardly surprising as he had just announced that the Horticultural Investigation Agency, the vegetable research centre where they all worked, was to close.

Phil: Last week, Candice explained how much of our book is a mix, albeit an exaggerated one, of experiences we have had working in various places. The same applies to the characters who will bear some relation to real people. Not partially close relationship most of the time (I should say that for legal reasons this applies especially to the bad ones), but creating a person out of thin area is impossible. You are bound to use elements of real people.

Andrew Livingstone is a good example. In the story he is head of the Horticulture Investigation Agency and as it opens, he is charged with telling everyone the government is going to close them down.

The scene is inspired by being stood in the crowd watching someone explain how our quango was to be closed down. The man doing the talking wasn’t the man we saw. It was Mr Kelly. Sort of.

Back in the dim and distant past, in an era before the Interweb was invented, I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I was the lowest of the low – you spoke to me about having your cows tested for TB or Brucellosis. Eventually, after a combination of hard work and being in the right place at the right time, I was the man you spoke to if your cow was a bit wobbly and you thought it might have BSE. I was truly a friend to the sons of the soil. (I didn’t just do cows, if you found a bat you called me as well but I just rang one of my contacts to get it taken away.)

Mr Kelly was the Divisional Veterinary Officer for our little office. He was a really lovely bloke. The sort of person you want to do your best for because he would appreciate it rather than because he would yell at you if you didn’t. Never obviously ambitious, he had ascended to the lofty heights of being in charge of our little office after a career in honest government service. With only a couple of years to go to retirement he had seen it all and spoken to most it too. If we had a difficult customer, he would deal with them and calm the situation. We didn’t need this skill very often but you never knew when it might be handy – an earlier occupant of the post had managed to leave a circus with a broken nose after getting off on the wrong foot. I suspect Mr Kelly would have sorted things out and probably been offered free tickets.

In my head, when I wrote Andrews parts, I pictured Mr Kelly. He would have been very upset to have to deliver the news and yet everyone would have felt for him even as he was telling them they were heading for the scrap-heap. It wasn’t his fault.

A character who is completely nice doesn’t make for interesting reading, so Andrew is also wily when required, just like his real life counterpart. He isn’t taking things lying down and has in a mind a way to fight back. As the plot progresses, his plan is revealed – although I won’t tell you if it is succesful, you’ll have to wait until we get published for that ! (Why not write to you MP demanding this ?). He also has to deal with a bit of transgression by the staff and instead of getting upset, takes the situation and uses it to his best advantage.

This last part caused a bit of discussion between us. Without giving too much away, something is found that shouldn’t be there. Candice assumed Andrew would have known about it and thus would be unhappy about its discovery. I knew that Mr Kelly would have been surprised and disappointed about it but since he wasn’t a control freak he would just put it down to young people doing what they do. However he would then have turned a potential disaster into a triumph. This would have been done very calmly and pragmatically.

So that is what happened.

What’s this got to do with the fish picture ? Well, as I say, it was a long time ago. Required to wear a tie in the office, I developed a taste for more unusual decoration. Mr Kelly saw this the first time I wore it and quietly asked that I brought it out again on his last day when we were due to have a retirement party. I wasn’t sure about this but did as requested. During his speech he ran through everyone in the office making some polite and complimentary comments about them. Getting to me he mentioned my lurid neckwear and something along the lines “…and judging from his latest tie, he appears to be joining the Fisheries division.”


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Kate Middleton wears a fascinatorPhil: From Chapter 2 of our book – She knew there was something missing though. All her friends were loved up – she had more wedding fascinators languishing in her bottom drawer than Accessorise.

From Wikipedia- A fascinator is a headpiece, a style of millinery The word originally referred to a fine, lacy head covering akin to a shawl and made from wool or lace.

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how I was able to watch the coverage of last weeks royal wedding and not say “What’s a fascinator ?” to the general derision of the fashion cognoscenti present. Indeed I can show my modern man credentials by making a stab at telling the difference between a collection of feather’n’stuff nailed to someones head, and a hat which is being worn at a crazy angle. Obviously I don’t want to appear too camp so I get it wrong from time to time. Deliberately obviously…

Up to the point I received this bit of text from Candice, obviously I had no more idea what one of these was, or why anyone would have a drawer full of them,  than I would expect my co-author to identify the component parts from the front suspension of a Volkswagen. Or understand why I have a garage full of them. Now, I am a true renascence man as I can do both. A regular Leonardo de Vinci.

Which goes to show that writing, especially with someone else, can be educational as well as fun. In many ways we’ve treated this like the sort of project you find yourself involved with at work. Each brings our own strengths to the job and sometimes we disagree over the direction the plot is taking. Weirdly, since the beginning and ends of the book were planned out pretty early in the process, it’s more a “discussion” over the route to betaken between the two points and the interesting places to visit along the way. So it’s like arguing in a car then. And you don’t get satnav for writing fiction.

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tea and cakePhil: As I sit here trying enjoying some delicious orange cake made by my sister, I take time from trying to format query letters for literary agents (procrastinating ? Me ?) to consider the things I have learned while writing this book.

For instance, MBT’s

As far as I can tell, these are funny soled shoes that tone your nether regions as you walk. With my intake of confectionary while at the keyboard, this seems like a very good idea, although you do have to walk around for them to work apparently. The acronym stands for Makes Bums Tiny-er apparently…

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What is a peplum frill ?

Phil: You know how it is; after years of writing about proper blokes subjects like boats and trains and greasy car maintenance, you get stuck into producing a novel and find you have fallen into the pink, fluffy, pit of chick-lit.

I don’t really know how this happened. When we first talked about the book, in my head there was something Tom Sharpe-ish going on. A bit less pervy stuff maybe, but definitely lots of funny set-pieces and preposterous ideas. Laugh out loud funny stuff.

The thing about working with someone else though is that your ideas get an immediate editing. The sort of thing that all writers ideas get, but instead of this happening at the end of the process when the manuscript is complete, they take a beating straight away. This is good as they never grow from mere acorns into sacred cows but you can find things eveloving in directions you didn’t expect. Quite exciting really.

Gradually, as e-mails pinged back and forth and lunchtime chats fleshed out the plans, Kate took over. Kate Smith, the main character that is. To put it in a nerdy way, she is Darth Vader in our Star Wars story but with better clothes, less space ships and no breathing issues.

In fact the clothes became more and more central to the story. Kate’s wardrobe defines her. It’s not just about appearance but (and this is where it gets chick-lit) her moods and personality are summed up by the contents of her wardrobe. It would be going too far to suggest that clothes are all that matter to her but she does use them in a way a male character wouldn’t. Not just her either, once you get into this stuff, everyone gets the treatment.

All this is fine but it leaves me marooned. I mean, I can understand why I don’t need a spanner suitable for Whitworth threaded bolts but am lost when it comes to outfits. For example, apparently different brands of jeans fit differently. Who knew ? I thought they just fitted or didn’t and if they didn’t then you picked a bigger waist size or longer legs.

All this means it’s a good job I have a co-writer. Now when I need to know what someone is wearing, I send an e-mail “Candice, what shoes are required for walking around a field in the summer ?”. I’d guessed “old ones” but apparently the correct answer is “Gladiator sandals or wedges”. Also, when I fire a block of text over, the next time I see it the paragraphs have added brand names. Chick-lit it seems should read like a shopping list.

Which brings me to peplum frills.

One of our minor characters wears a jacket with one and my first response was “What the hell is one of those ?”

Tentatively looking on teh interweb, I find it is “a flared ruffle attached to the waistline of a dress, jacket, or blouse”

That wasn’t much help. So, emboldened by the knowledge that I wasn’t about to inadvertently surf porn at work, I looked at the pictures. This helped, it’s the frilly bit at the bottom of a womans jacket. To my eye, an extraneous bit of detail stuck on by designers hoping to persuade gullible customers that they need a new jacket even when the current one hasn’t worn out yet.

I enquired further. According to Candice, you might wear a jacket with a peplum frill to distract the eye from a “fat arse”.

Genius. Without describing the person, you are saying that she cares about her appearance but is a little heavier than she would like to be. That’s why I need a colleague. Mind you, with all these cup cakes we are eating now I’m wondering if there are any blokes jackets with the same feature…


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Pole dancing in the office?

Candice: Yes really, we were pole dancing in the office, it was a very progressive place, this quango.

No, seriously, back in the time line of how this little beauty of a book  came about there were some very weird situations. 

Once we got in the flow of writing, ideas came thick and fast, some of them autobiographical and some I have no idea where they came from but they just popped into my head. 

So Phil and I would be writing chapters at home and then emailing them to work for the other to critique.  Sometimes, due to the fact the company was closing down and work was getting thin on the ground, we could crack on with editing and doing some writing in the office.  Being a progressive company we were allowed to wear iPods, and once the Pod went on I’d disappear into the world of KOD never to be seen again.  In fact the number of times an email came in to do some work and I’d be like, “Hang on, I’m right in the middle of something, and now you want me to do some WORK!”

So imagine the surrealness, sat in an open plan office of about 40 people, who are in differing states of depression due to the fact they have just been given their marching orders, and you are chortling in the corner because you’ve written a cracking line or Phil’s sent a suggestion over.

The number of times I had to pretend I had something stuck in my throat, “No I’m not laughing, honest!”

So, we come to the pole dancing.  To create tension, Kate has a love interest, Dave, her old university flame; but a co-worker takes a fancy to him too.  Now imagine Tracey, we all have one in the office; office flirt, likes to wear minimal clothing what ever the weather or situation, and if you see a man you like, she wants him too!   But our Tracey has a taste for clothes from net a porter, due to her inheritance, and for tequila.  One too many and she’s pole dancing for Dave. 

So I’m busily writing this situation and around me people are making tea, discussing office politics and getting more documents printed.  Too bizarre for words!

Of course there would be cake too – as that always helped the creative processes.  Today’s representation is from yumm in Zellig at the Custard Factory – topped with a red nose to celebrate comic relief.

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