Category Archives: Phil

I hope our book doesn’t date this badly

Phil: Picking up a book of short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I’m struck by the contents, some of which make me feel uncomfortable.

Round The Fire Stories contains 17 tales from the master who created Sherlock Holmes. Many of them read and feel like something the great detective could have been involved with. Indeed, one of them includes a letter from someone who could very well be Holmes. If you like the style, then this is an interesting read.

But, and it’s a big but, some of the text has not aged well. Conan Doyle writes of an age of empire. Form the days when most of the map was pink and the sun never set on Her Britannic Majesties lands. We have plucky Brits out running the colonies or travelling to mysterious lands.

I quite like a bit of this. Part of me hankers for an era when travel was difficult and going abroad was an adventure, not somewhere you go for a stag/hen weekend and spend the time bladdered.

But with this comes some unfortunate racial issues. The Brown Hand revolves around a ghost of a beggar who comes to claim back his hand from the surgeon who severed it (saving the mans life) and keeps it in a jar. The hero of the story allows the spectre to find another hand made available after an accident and this seems to satisfy him enough to cease his haunting. The ghost can’t rest until he is “whole” and yet is happy with some else’s hand – because in the spirit world, all brown hands are apparently the same and he won’t know the difference.

It gets worse in The Fiend of the Cooperage, where the N-word is used repeatedly, not as an insult, just because that’s what people said in that era.

Is it fair to judge stories written around 1900, and republished in 1991, but today’s standards?

No, I don’t think it is. Any book is a historical document and to say you can’t read it leads quickly to book burning. These stories are of their time and my discomfort is a good thing. Most people (loons excepted) wouldn’t write something like this today. To be honest, things like Cooperage wouldn’t get published because it’s rubbish anyway. You could update it, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. Spoiler: A giant snake did it – see what I mean?

Conan Doyle was very keen on mystic and occult stuff and it shows here. Many of these tales intended to be told around the fire involve ghosts, the existence of which is never questioned. Holmes would have not been impressed.

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Men DO suffer from Imposter Syndrome

What IS this? We aren't at eat n park! #imposterPhil: I was loitering on the station at a steam railway last weekend, chatting to a fellow magazine editor, and someone interrupted our conversation.

“You’re Phil Parker. I just wanted to say I really enjoy your work.”

It took me a few moments to recover, but I quickly slipped into the “Thanks very much. Glad you like it.” mode followed by my standard “Don’t forget, if there’s anything you’d like me to cover, drop me an e-mail.”

Working in hobby publishing, and appearing on a DVD for subscribers, it’s long fascinated me how people seem to think they know you. I admit, I enjoy this most of the time as I’m not great at starting conversations, but comments of my on-screen work have kicked off many pleasant chats and provided me with inspiration for several projects.

The best bit though – feedback.

A comment this week on Instagram annoyed me. “Women suffer from imposter syndrome and men don’t.” It’s not the first time I’ve read this, and not just from random people but proper newspaper columnists, and it always winds me up. 

Imposter syndrome is the nagging feeling that you aren’t good enough for your job, and that one day you’ll be found out and asked to leave.

Some people enjoy massive amounts of self-confidence and breeze through like not caring about anything. Not me. I’ve always been sure that I’m hanging on to whatever position I have by my fingernails. At least once per employment, I’ve been involved with something that I’m sure will result in me being fired. Not deliberately, just because I’m Not Good Enough.

I’m sure most people are affected in varying degrees. We all have moments of self-doubt – yes, even men.

Which is why feedback is important. I like to think I’m doing OK, but that outside validation is important, otherwise, I might be deluding myself.

Even critical feedback is useful. That way you can assess whether the person offering feedback is likely to be reliable, or operating on their own agenda to undermine you. It happens and recognising this is an essential skill, albeit, not one that’s fun to learn.

The thing is, we can all help each other. If you read something and like it – say so. Hit the like button, send a Tweet or an e-mail. Do something to spread the positivity. There are enough negative thoughts in the world right now, make some positive ones!

The Interweb has put the power of feedback in everyone’s hands. At the moment, it’s largely used by sad trolls sat in their pants in front of a computer to bully others or hurl abuse. This doesn’t have to be the case. Both Candice and I have contacted authors whose books we’ve enjoyed by Twitter to say something, and they have generally responded to say thanks. Even moderately famous people like reassurance!

Now, you see that Like button, you know what you have to do now… 🙂

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Plans and ideas

Phil: Last week, team NolanParker kick-started the writing process again.

On a wet day in Birmingham, we got cracking on one of those projects that have been in hiatus thanks to stupidly busy lives getting in the way.

Over tea, chicken and mango sandwiches and (shared) cake, we bashed out the basic outline of a side-project to our book we’ve been thinking about for a while. Sitting in the Birmingham Museum and art gallery cafe (which is excellent) Candice fired up her laptop and we actually did some work.

The problem at the moment is we have too many plans. Book 3 is taking a back-seat for the moment while we make a bit of progress on some secret ideas that need to be finalised reasonably soon. Sorry, I know you are all waiting for the latest in the Kate saga and we will get back to it.

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Why do authors need an editor?

Phil: A few weeks ago, I enjoyed some delicious home-made custard creams while listening to author Mike Gayle and his editor Nick Sayers courtesy of Kenilworth books.

With 15 books to his name, it was interesting to hear Mike explain what working with an editor entails, and why it is important. Despite being an editor myself, I’d never really understood the role played by someone with the same job title in fiction.

It turns out that the editor plays a big role in shaping and sharpening up the book. They read through and provide the fresh pair of eyes unavailable to a writer too close, and to invested in, the story.

The editor continually challenges the author. Do the characters work? Are there too many of them? Does the plot flag partway through? Does the thing even make sense?

All this after the publisher has shown enough interest in the manuscript to assign someone’s time to work on it.

Mike had worked with several editors in the past and credited all of them with improving his work. I can see how this relationship is important but also how easily it could break down if the suggestions were at odds with the original creative vision.

There’s a special skill in being the editor and managing a potentially fractious author. I did take the chance to ask exactly how things worked out if they disagreed. Sadly, neither would admit to an all-out fight (they both came across as really nice people) but I can imagine some egos getting in the way.  It must be especially frustrating being an editor if the writer keeps ignoring the advice offered.

For team NolanParker, I think we provide at least some of the editor services to each other. You’ll have read in past blog posts how we’ve disagreed with each other over plot points. It’s not always an easy situation, but we respect each other’s opinion enough to be able to get over this each time. After all, we both want our books to be the best they can.

 

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A picture of some cheesecake

Candice and Phil are too busy to come to the blog right now.

Your visit is important to us, so please enjoy a picture of some strawberry cheesecake Phil ate while listening to a poem about dogging.

For your information, it was very nice and so was the poem.

Normal service will be resumed next week.

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Step away from the epic – think local

Phil: On my recent sojourn to the Isle of Man, my car radio was tuned in to Manx FM and my first purchase was a pile of local newspapers.

I like a world where all the stories are local. For example, while the national news was banging on about Brexit, the lead story on the local radio was about a children’s play area whose opening had been delayed. Another big story is a flume at a local swimming pool that won’t fit together.

You might laugh, but this stuff matters. Big politics is very remote to most of us. For the most part, we don’t really see Westminster having a direct effect on our lives.

The local play area being shut – well what do you do with the kids during the summer holidays? The same question you can ask about the flume.

Now translate this to your reading.

I bet most of your favourite books centre on one or two characters lives. Plot twists are personal, because that’s what we relate to as humans.

OK, sci-fi often grapples with galaxy-wide stories spanning aeons, but those do tend to be the preserve of a small number of very enthusiastic readers. Good luck to them, but I find that stuff achingly dull.

No, the essence of good writing seems to be inventing a small world and keeping your plot within it. If you need further proof, look at the tiny areas covered by popular soap operas, a few streets, a square, or memorably, a motel. Look closely at these little worlds and all human life can be found.

As it is. I bet the delayed flume could form the basis for one of our books…

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The holiday library

Phil: I’m on holiday at the moment in a self-catering apartment. It’s so nice here that this is the third time I’ve staying in the place, and all being well, not the last.

In the corner of the massive living room is a bookcase with a selection of paperbacks on the shelves. Last year, I started reading Moondust by Andrew Smith, but ran out of time to finish it before my departure.

As far as I am aware, there are no rules for the bookshelf, so I decided to take the book home with me and get to the end, before writing a review on here.

But, then I felt guilty. This is a terrific book, what if someone else wanted to read it?

You could argue it should go to a charity shop and continue on its travels. Many books have a life that starts in a “proper” bookshop and then continues through several hands before the covers fall off and they end up in recycling. To me the “who had this before?” question is part of the fun of buying second-hand books.

This time though, I felt that I really ought to bring the book back, and so it has sat in the reading pile for a year until I packed it in my suitcase and brought it “home”, coincidentally on the 50th anniversary of the moon landings it celebrates.

To make up for my transgression, I also added a copy of our books to the shelf. That’s not just me being nice, the dream is that some Hollywood A-lister will have the apartment next week, pick the copy up and shout, “Get me the authors, this is the greatest book I’ve ever read and I must option the story for a major film immediately!”

Well, you can dream can’t you.

Did I do the right thing though? What do you do when the day to go home arrives before the last page of the book?

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