Category Archives: Phil

A change is as good as a rest

Phil: I mentioned last week that I have a new job. My flight away from being  “The Man from IT” is pretty much complete with a landing into “Jobs that will make Candice roll her eyes.” territory.

In addition to my existing writing work, I’m now editor of two magazines. No, not Vogue (ther loss) but Engineering in Miniature and Garden Rail.

Officially, I started just over a week ago with the first issues under my control appearing in August. My life now revolves around flatplans and other people’s words. To me, the subjects are fascinating and the people who take part in these hobbies, generally, interesting individuals and groups. Some of the later can even be relied on to supply good cake when I pay a visit!

All of this would seem a million miles away from the world of humorous fiction with a hint of chick-lit.

I can’t argue with that – there won’t be a huge amount of cross-over between the two audiences. That’s what makes it all so much fun.

Sitting with the Nolan discussing plots fires up a very different part of my brain. Our ideas aren’t constrained in any way, other than a desire for a little realism so the reader doesn’t have to suspend disbelief too much. An hour of plotting and I come away refreshed in a way that others have to get massaged with ungents to achieve. I’d certainly recommend stepping out of the real world occasionally either read or better still write, a book.

Anyway, I’ve managed to become even nerdier than when we first met. Unbelievable I know, but true.

If all this wasn’t bad enough, I have to cover a model bus event during the weekend, that’s the anorak quotient turned up a long way even for me! On the train there though, I’ll be pondering the lives of Kate, Dave, Gareth, Kelvin and Tracey. Well, we are already having serious ideas for our third book…

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Come back next week

Phil: I’m stupidly busy with stuff (new job!) and Candice is sunning herself on holiday.

We are both nervously waiting for the feedback from our test readers.

Normal service will be resumed next week. Now go outside, sit in the sunshine and read a book or something. It’s too nice a day to be looking at the computer anyway.

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Look after your anoraks

AnorakPhil: I’ve been enjoying a bit of catch-up TV recently. I missed out on the BBC show The Detectorists when it first aired, but am nearly at the end of series 1 and looking forward to series 2.

The series revolves around Andy and Lance, two metal detector enthusiasts and their group of friends. What I like most about it is that while the main characters could easily have been figures of fun, they aren’t. In many ways the plots are conventional but built around people’s hobby rather than job. In fact, like most people, their jobs are utterly mundane and merit hardly any attention. Life is lived outside working hours.

Better still, they get to show skill and knowledge, such as Andy knowing exactly how long bones survive in the soil when explaining how a recently discovered skeleton couldn’t be Saxon.

Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times summed it up when he wrote, “Like the ordinary lives it magnifies, Detectorists has the air of seeming to be small and immense at once, to be about hardly anything and almost everything. It is full of space and packed with life.”

Now, you might conclude that I like the show because I’m a bit of an anorak myself. While I have no desire to find bits of metal buried in fields, I do get why this might be interesting to do. There’s nothing wrong with it (OK, archeologists, pipe down) and I’m sure that there is a lot more skill required than waiting for your machine to go ping.

I like the idea that people who it would be easy to turn into the butt of jokes get to be the heroes. Heck, they both have attractive partners and Lance drives a TR7 so living the dream!

Bringing this back to our books, one of my character to look after is Kelvin, our man from IT. He’s a bit of a nerd as befits his role in the firm, but that doesn’t mean he is any sort of joke. Yes, there are a couple of (realistically) embarrassing moments along the way but when you read Kate vs the Navy (out soon!) you’ll find that Kelvin is a bit of a star.

Tracey might say, “Yeah. Kelvin. You know. Bad clothes. Can’t talk to girls. Always there when you need something on your computer fixed.”, but it turns out she was wrong. Very wrong.

 

 

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Now for the test readers

Phil: Progress report. The book is ready for our carefully selected* group of test readers.

Over a long evening, I formatted the pages and uploaded them to Lulu.com. Then an order for a couple of copies was placed.

A few days later, the books arrived. Flicking through in the pub, I notced I could do to carry out a little more formatting in a couple of places, there is at least one chapter that starts half way down a page for a start, but it will be fine the task in hand. Having a paper-back looking thing is certainly easier for the our literary guinea pigs than endless A4 pages, and even at 9 quid a copy (including postage), quite a lot cheaper than Prontaprint.

We await results.

*selected because they understand that their job is to read and (hopefully) enjoy the story, not care about the grammar. I don’t care how good we are with prepositions and semi-colons, if the story is rubbish then our time has been wasted. Grammar will be fixed separately as we are also looking for a copy editor.

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Listening to music while writing

Phil: When team NolanParker meet up, we like a bit of cake. And quite a lot of chat. Sometimes though, we need to get some words on the screen and then everything changes.

Laptops out. iPods on.

The iPods are an essential piece of kit. For a start that stop us talking to each other. Mostly though, it’s all about blocking the rest of the world out and helping our concentration.

We have both spent years of our lives in noisy offices. Environments where you learn to tune things out. I know that I now can’t work in a silent room. The walls seem to close in on me and the lack of noise become oppressive. I like to use this as an excuse for my poor exam performance rather than admitting I’m just a bit thick.

Is this just a comfort thing though? It appears not. Reading this fascinating blog post by author and expert Nicola Morgan, there does seem to be science to back all of this up.

Most interesting is how the choice of music matters. It must be:

  • Familiar
  • Music you actually love
  • More than one song – an album or playlist
  • At a volume that doesn’t intrude on your thoughts

Which probably helps to explain why I get more done with the iPod on than the radio.

Even with over a thousand tracks on shuffle, it’s rare that anything surprises me. My memory for music isn’t bad.

The radio, on the other hand, will play tracks that I don’t know so presumably, part of my limited brain capacity feels the need to pay attention. Part of the historic response to danger we developed as cavemen, although more to avoid being eaten than exposed to something new by Harry Styles!

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All done. Now is it any good?

checkered flagPhil: As my writing pal proclaimed last week, our next book, Kate vs the Navy, is ready for test readers.

I’ve been slogging away sorting out the formatting. Indents for speech and chapter numbers are the main focus so it looks nice on the page. No doubt you, dear reader, will do all this sort of thing as you write but we’re messy in this respect. The creative juices get flowing and the tab key is ignored.

Candice has been through the text and added a load of scene setting phrases to break up long blocks of dialogue. Without this, it’s possible to lose track of exactly who is speaking.

There have also been a few extra sections of text added – which I promptly re-wrote. That’s how we roll. One will add in parts of story and the other will say, “I like that but now want to tweak it”. Generally we manage to do this without falling out over the changes. Quite how we manage is a mystery as we’re both pretty passionate about our writing, but we seem to manage.

Making the best use of some enforced reading time, I gave the text another polish while sorting out the formatting. Tiny little niggles but better dealt with. I’m sure there are many more but you have to stop at some point.

Anyway, the next job is to format the book for A5 pages (it’s wet up for A4 at the moment) and get some print on demand copies made up so we can hand it over to the test readers, one of whom is apparently “gagging” for it.

Then we’ll find out if the story hangs together. Both of us have read it to death and agree that it’s the greatest book written since our last one, but how will the rest of the world feel?

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Reading is good for your child – FACT

Phil: I’m special.

You’d probably guessed that, but it’s true. Deciding to put in an appearance a few days before I was due to be born, I became part of a massive survey which has, and will continue to, influenced how you and your children live.

The 1970 “cohort” was a survey of all children born in an April week. Since birth we’ve been survey and interviewed every so often and the results have helped to shape science and government policy.

I didn’t know much about this, other than that I and my best mate Bod at middle school were part of all this. We got to sit tests every so often that asked things about how we felt and how often we went to the toilet. They told us it was science and everything sounded sensible, especially the bit about skiving off the odd lesson to be “special”.

Now, thanks to Helen Pearson’s book The Life Project, I know what was going on. We weren’t quite as special as we thought, cohort surveys have taken place in 1946, 1958, 1970, 1991 and 2000. Many thousands of children have been part of these and the results are fascinating.

Towards the end of this complex but very readable book, a story of the way life in Britain has changed emerges. Looking at these results over long periods allows trends to be spotted such as the link between mothers smoking and low birth weight. Even if, as was often the case, no-one isn’t sure why it seems to be a good idea to ask the questions at the time, later on looking at how various factors affect children’s development pays dividends.

You might think that this would be enough to sell the idea of running these to politicians, but the story of the cohort surveys is of dedicated scientists constantly having to fight for funding and support. Many real characters emerge, without whom much of this information would never have come to light.

One constant result seems to be that if you are born into poverty or a broken home, you’ll find life much harder than those with a more fortunate start in life.

However, the 1970 cohort, my lot, showed that children who read for pleasure tended to advance further in vocabulary, spelling and maths between ages 10 and 16. This mattered more than having a parent with a university degree.

So, don’t put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington, send her down the library!

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