Category Archives: Phil

Brave moves

Phil: According to the BBC, last week 10 years since the great financial crash. Banks were hastily thrown vast amounts of money, a few bankers lost their jobs and everyone prepared for financial Armageddon.

A couple of months earlier, I had thrown in my job with plans to travel and write and generally eat through a big chunk of my savings, treating myself to the gap year I’d missed out on because I didn’t go to university. Not that I’d have been brave enough to take that year of course, but I’d got old enough to think I might be ready for it 25 years later.

All this came back to me as I read  Take a Look at Me Now by Miranda Dickinson.

The story concerns Nell who loses her job as a planning officer and instead of plunging into the local jobs market, decides to take off to visit her cousin in San Francisco for a couple of months with her redundancy money.  She has a dream of running an American style diner in the UK and as luck would have it, ends up meeting a diner owner in the US who shows her the ropes.

Along the way, there is a dalliance with a hunky, grey-eyed artist and generally, a good time is had by all. So good in fact, that you have to get 2/3rds of the way through the book before there is any jeopardy. Redundancy aside, her life goes swimmingly the moment her feet hit US soil with a succession of happy coincidences. As a travel promotion for the city, it’s great, and you can tell the author fell in love with the place.

As with any chick-lit, all ends happily, especially for the publishers who surely have a potential sequel being written since the story couldn’t have ended in a better place for this.

To be honest, it’s light, pleasant reading. Undemanding and perfect for a sun lounger.

My biggest complaint is the cover, which has all the hallmarks of a designer keen to go to the pub. The story is set where? Well, put the Golden Gate bridge on. It’s about a youngish woman? Where’s that CD full of unconvincing clipart? Job done – let’s go.

Having said this, my own story also enjoyed a few happy coincidences. Jumping into the world of temporary jobs, I ended up working with Candice and when the place closed down, we found ourselves with lots of time and no work so started writing a book. Which became a series. And a lasting friendship.

Now if only we could get someone to sign up to turn them into a major feature film, this really would read like a book…

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New glasses make me feel old…

Phil: It’s that time again – the time when I have to choose some new glasses.

Sadly, the opticians aren’t able to sell me the same design of frames as I’ve enjoyed for the last two pairs so my “strong personal brand” needs to change slightly (Yes – strong personal brand, not me being too much of a wuss to go for something different) but this isn’t the biggest shock.

I’ve noticed for a few months that close-up work has been a bit of a challenge and have even resorted to taking my specs off for some of it. It seems that great age has caught up with me and I’m suffering from presbyopia, or the loss of elasticity in the lens. Basically, I need reading glasses.

This is the beginning of a slow decline obviously. Next time, those glasses will be hanging on a chain around my neck and the ones I normally wear will become the ones I peer over the top of when talking to people. After this, it’s a slippery slope to shopping in M&S and wearing cardigans…

Better get back to the writing before all my critical faculties give up on me!

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Boozing our way through the difficult third novel

Phil: Book 3 is proving tricky. We need our main character to go through a significant change during the story and it’s all going to be quite emotional.  To this end, we’ve not involved her much in the comedy strand, which has progressed quite nicely without her.

The trouble with this is, that we now need to work out her path through the book, and try not to make it either miserable, or unrealistic. There will be no lightbulb moments that aren’t the result of a bit of personal growth. Readers are not to think, “where did that come from?” when Big Moments happen.

So, we meet up in Ikea’s cafe. Not our normal place of “work” but someone needed storage boxes, and it’s not a long way out for me. In fact, on the way I managed to find an interesting shop and was involved in a chat about 3D printers when the “I’m in the cafe” text arrived instructing me to attend.

I had had the foresight to arrive by bus and so when choosing lunchtime supplies, realised that a little alcohol to grease the creative brain cells wasn’t out of the question. To whit, I grabbed a can of Cider Apple and some meatball based food. 0.1% ABV – no slouch me, a couple of these and I’d be outside shouting at pigeons!

After a bit of chat, we felt that it was time to move on. Most of Coventry had decided to bring their children in for the day to add a flourish to the end of the school holidays. That meant the normally tranquil restaurant was transformed into a scene of mayhem, not conducive to producing great works of literature.

Next stop – a pub. We do good work in pubs, but of course, you must have a drink.

My first thought had been tea, but when Miss Prim and Proper ordered lemonade, I changed my order to a shandy.

And it worked. We both feel this book is hard going. There are loads of scenes written, but the love story, apparently so easy on initial inspection, has turned out to be more complicated than we thought.

After an hour or so of debate and pondering, we are pretty certain we’ve nailed it. Some of the work we’ve done needs to be moved in the timeline, a few bits go in the bin. No matter, the plotlines are basically mapped out and they seem to make sense. Candice has written the bare bones of a pivotal scene and sent it to me for added comedy and fiddling.

We are on our way! Now, where did that traffic cone come from?

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Throwing a spanner in the works

 

Phil: I know I am a writer, because sometimes I get an idea in my head and it bounces around my tiny brain until I’ve written it down. It’s almost like I’m pouring the words out of my ear.

Last week, we met up for a planning session, Candice produced a timeline in different colours to help our thinking and in my mind, our discussions had started an idea forming.

My work is a bit stupid busy sometimes, but I have managed to find a semi-regular writing slot late on a Thursday evening, so I sat at my laptop and started typing. A couple of hours later, the scene was complete and unexpectedly, had turned out to be rather more pivotal to the overall story than I’d expected. I tend to just write and let the plot flow. Editing is for later, first, the words have to head to the other half of the team for approval.

It’s a slightly nervous wait for each of us as the other is reading. We both want a “Well done” but are happy to take criticism – from each other at least. I was confident though, this was good stuff.

The response, “Hum. You’ve thrown a spanner in my works.”

Oh.

“But I like this and it’s not in the timeline.”

I scramble to find the timeline and look through. When I came up with the idea, I thought I knew where it fitted.  Sadly, it didn’t quite slot in as I’d hoped, a bit like an annoying jigsaw piece that you are sure should go in one of the remaining holes, but stubbornly won’t go in no matter how hard you push.

Never mind, I’m not precious about it. I just needed to stop the idea bouncing off the insides of my head. We exchanged a few more e-mails looking at the plan and finally, I opened one to read,

“Hang on I think I’ve got it…”

Result! With a little bit of re-working, this idea does move the story forward. It isn’t going to slot in quite where I thought it would, but like the jigsaw, if you attach it to the big pile of pieces already assembled, it helps complete the picture.

I’m pleased with the result, after a bit of worry, my new words are an excellent fit for a major turning point 2/3rds of the way through the book. They galvanize our heroine and stir her into action. An action that will culminate in the love story reaching the place we planned it to be by the end of the book and blasting through a couple of major impediments along the way (can you tell how hard I’m trying to avoid spoilers?).

Writing as a team isn’t always plain sailing, but working this way brings a dynamic to the early stages I don’t think you find plodding away on your own. Knowing that someone else who cares about the book as much as I do is about the comment keeps me on my toes!

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What does a being a writer actually mean?

Phil: A few weekends ago, Candice and I attended the Writing West Midlands  National Writers Conference – get us going big-time!

There’s lots to blog about, but the event started with a keynote speech from Illustrator Shoo Raynor which tied in very nicely to the first session I was booked to take part in – Sustaining a Creative Career.

I kid myself that writing about trains and editing a modelmaking magazine means my “career” (this makes it sound like I planned it and didn’t just luck out) can be described as creative. I guess that is because you can’t really call it “useful” in the same way doctors, policemen, firemen, farmers, workers making Tunnocks teacakes etc. are.

As writers, or at least aspiring writers, the challenge is to earn enough money by your trade to survive. Years ago, you’d do this by sending your latest manuscript to your publisher and they would send back a big pile of cash. Sadly, as Shoo explained in his speech, since the demise of the net book agreement, this doesn’t really work. You might get some money, but by the time everyone else has taken their cut, you’ll be reduced to the own brand beans aisle of Tesco for tea.

No, the modern author, or creative, has to have a number of strings to their bow.

Those taking the session I attended wrote, taught, mentored, ran sessions for other writers and any number of related jobs to make ends meet. This isn’t seen as such a bad thing – it provides a variety of experiences which can build the writers experience, feeding back into the work. If you reside in an ivory tower, can you write anything other than how it feels to be in splendid isolation? Rapunzel has been written and it pretty much covers all the tower-based hero genre.

Shoo is the sort of proper, published writer that we all aspire to be, but his output goes beyond traditionally published books into self-publishing and using YouTube tutorials to provide another income stream. It’s fascinating stuff, and I strongly suggest that you sit back and enjoy his half-hour long speech.  Ignore the slightly odd camera viewpoint, but remember that he recorded and posted this on-line himself. Another of those tasks that writers have to find time to become skilled in.

Turns out, being a writer isn’t just about writing.

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Why I’m STILL rubbish at holidays

Phil: As Candice mentioned last week, I’ve been on holiday. No jet-lag this time, since it was on the (mostly) sunny Isle of Man.

Now back home, I have several bags of souvenirs, lots of photos and a few videos. The week was great, but not perfect.

My plan had involved running around the island (not actual running, travelling on the train, tram or bus obviously) visiting things and meeting people. Evenings were to be spent backing up my photos then doing some writing. In my imagination, I’d have a relaxing hour most evenings hammering away at the keyboard, producing vast amounts of hilarious plot for our third novel. I might even have promised by writing other half this.

I’d also catch up on my reading. Two books went in the bag.

Now I’m back home, it’s time to admit I failed. Total written – 432 words.

And those novels, I never opened them. I did read 1/4 of a book picked up from the apartment “library” and most of the local newspapers but only in snatched moments.

As da kidz would say, “Epic FAIL”.

They would also go on to explain that I am suffering from FOMO – that is the Fear Of Missing Out. I pre-pack my week with stuff and don’t leave space for unexpected things, or just to relax. I want to see everything and be everywhere. No time to chill, all there is is the idea that when I get home I’ll be thinking, “Why didn’t I do that as well”  – pretty much what Dr Candice diagnosed a few weeks ago. At least her smug “I woz right” feeling will help counter the “Where are the WORDS you promised Parker?” grumbling.

Now I need a break to recover!

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Writing tools

Phil: All writers fetishise tools. We collect notepads and pens with a dream that if we can just find the right one, the muse will strike and we’ll be roaring away producing the words readers of the world will hang on.

I’ve written in the past that I simply couldn’t write without a word processor, so one tool that I really don’t covet, is a typewriter. Not even this one.

This is the Smith-Corona 250 electronic typewriter that Arthur C Clarke wrote the first draft of 2001 on. At the time, it would have been space-age, but then the man who owned it was thinking years or even decades ahead.

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