Category Archives: Phil

Covering your face, in style

Phil: Phil in a face coveringFace coverings, or masks, are in the news at the moment as the government flails around trying to work out if we should be wearing them. I’m no scientist, but even though don’t have to, as I write, I have been wearing a covering in shops and confined spaces for a couple of weeks. Some would suggest that this is a good thing, virus or not.

Exactly what you cover your mug with is a big decision. These things are going to become like ties – a way to express yourself.

My main mask has VW campervans on it. I’ve also Dr Who, steam trains and a sort of trendy stars design. This collection is likely to grow over time. They are fun, as well as potentially helpful for health.

This makes me wonder what sort of covering the characters in our book would wear. After a little discussion with Candice (there is fashion involved, I’m out of my comfort zone), here are our thoughts:

Kelvin – He’s in IT and has no sense of style. One of those blue disposable paper jobbies will do the job.

Gareth – He’s going to keep forgetting his mask, but it’s probably going to be something picked up on his wife’s cattle farm. She will disapprove of the idea but when he askes, she’ll have something from an agricultural supplier handy. If he’s lucky, it won’t smell of dung. If he’s really lucky, someone in the office will save him from Tracey’s joke present of a gimp mask.

Dave – A sporty number aimed at cyclists.

Tracey – Now we are talking. Tracey will want a covering that says designer. It must have logos. It must be exclusive and expensive. This article from Vogue will help.

Kate – Our hero will quickly acquire a selection of discrete coverings that will co-ordinate with her outfits. Not for Ms Smith, the leopard print that Tracey will doubtless be sporting. Maybe she’s started with this Wolford number as worn by Jenifer Aniston as it’s streamlined and will go with most business attire. These Citizen’s of Humanity masks send out the right message to the more “right on” client, her wardrobe is all about image after all. It’s politer to drop hints via the medium of clothing rather than shout, “WE’RE REALLY KIND AND CARING AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT!” at a new lead. The one she won’t be wearing, is the Kittens and Cats mask someone in the office bought her as a joke, no matter how much any of the cats looks like her Olly…

So, what’s on your face?

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Not going out

OutPhil: Have you spent time on Twitter recently? It seems that boasting that you have no intention of visiting a pub, park, beach or anywhere else the #covididiots can be found, is very much the fashion nowadays.

The boast is bandied about with the same pride as people used to have when announcing they don’t have a television. Superiority seeps from their pores as they try to pretend that they are too busy reading complicated Greek poetry or other “worthy” pursuits to lower themselves to watch the box.

Now, people are proud that they will never, ever, ever visit a pub again in a million years.

Not being able to get out and about has been an interesting experience. Incredibly frustrating for me as much of my work relies on going to shows where there will be several thousand people, many in high-risk groups. All that stopped in March and it’s not looking like it’s going to start again any time soon. Best bets are that 2020 is over, and the first half of 2021 is looking shaky.

Necessity is the mother of invention and last weekend, our magazine attempted a “Virtual Exhibition”.

There were displays made up of photos and videos to replace those found at a physical event. We managed to have model-making demonstrations via video too.

Being on-line, we did things you can’t do in real life too, such as interviewing people from around the world. While there is a little bit of this on stage at our London event, working via Zoom, things were taken to a whole new level. We are now used to “proper” telly being done this way, and technology allows us all to have a go.

The result was a huge amount of work – but it paid off. Plenty of visitors to the event and loads of great feedback. While you can’t really replace the physical show, what we produced wasn’t a bad alternative.

Have we created a new type of event? Could it carry on in the future even when the “real” shows come back?

Who knows. What I can be certain about is that the on-line genie is out of the bottle. I’ve seen a few virtual events aimed at writers. Candice is off to a concert, with bopping, in a car park. Some of these will become popular, others will lose their novelty value. Humans are adaptable.

The future probably won’t look anything like we imagine.

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Missing feeling like a PROPER author

Phil: According to my increasingly useless* calendar, last weekend we should have been enjoying the Writing West Midlands conference.

Candice and I have enjoyed our trip to Aston University for the last few years. It’s always a good day out. We look down the list of presentations and seminars then dole them out between us. Being a team is very handy when two events are on at the same time because we can pool our knowledge over lunch or tea. They do excellent catering at these events. Good cake, and we like a good cake.

Surrounded by other authors, it feels like we are actually part of “the industry”. I know we’ve knocked out a couple of books but neither of us gets to live off writing fiction, so we don’t feel we’ve “made it” yet. And yes I know very few authors survive purely on the income from writing, but allow me the fantasy.

Sadly, it’s not happening this year. The shoes I wear because they feel suitably authorly will stay in the wardrobe. My only complaint is that with the event being held in the summer, it’s always too hot to wear my tweed jacket which feels even more writely.

Attending writing events has been an unexpected highlight of our literary efforts. OK, we are paying to go rather than being feted up on stage (except for Stratford Literary Festival a few years ago) but it’s a start. We’ve seen some interesting talks from fascinating people. There have been moments to groan over too as the first question from the audience is always someone who just wants to talk about themselves, but it’s part of the fun.

Writing West Midlands events tend to be more technical with useful ideas on publishing and publicity. We, hard-core writers, feel more at home there than at those events where celebrities just pitch their latest book to an adoring room of fans. That and we can never get tickets for the later.

Mind you, if anyone feels the need to hear from a couple of entertaining writers about some really funny books at your international literary festival or local book club, please give us a shout!

 

*Useless, unless your hobby is crossing out events you can’t go to any more, then it’s brilliant – loads of practice.

 

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Sniff the chocolate, buy the book

Phil: According to a study by Belgian researchers published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, releasing the smell of chocolate into the air in a book shop will make customers 40% more likely to buy romance novels and cookbooks, and about 22% more likely to buy books in other genres.

The researchers, led by Lieve Douce of Belgium’s Hasselt University, spent 10 days observing customers in a Belgian bookstore and found that they would spend more time browsing if the aroma was present.

This is terrific news for anyone working in a book shop. Science has said that if they stuff themselves with chocolate and waft the smell (obviously you can’t breathe aggressively on customers at the moment) around, sales will soar. I’d be up for that!

So, sit back and imagine the scent of your favourite bar. Let your imagination fill your nostrils with the heavenly aroma. Now all you need is a book to read where a chocolate machine takes a major role in the plot. Hold, on, What about this one?

Please note: Candice and Phil do not recommend using bars of chocolate as bookmarks. They will go all melty and ruin the pages. Gobble then down with a nice cup of tea instead. 

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Kate Vs the Dirt Boffins – Out today!

Kate vs the Dirt Boffins - Out NOW!

It’s in the shops (OK, on Amazon) now – the brand new version of Kate vs the Dirt Boffins!

Available on Kindle and paperback, we’ve added bits, taken out the typos and there’s a bonus authors interview at the back.

Perfect for all the family – head over to Amazon and grab your copy now!

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Kate vs the Dirt Boffins – New edition cover

Phil: Part of our great book relaunch includes a new brand new cover.

There have been many discussions with designer Zoe over exactly which type of tractor we required, and where you can put a pair of stylish red shoes so the barcode and price box doesn’t cover them up – a definite no-no according to Candice!

On the back, we have a picture of Simon waving his protest banner, but you’ll have to buy a copy to see that. How? Well, watch this space and all will be revealed VERY soon.

In the meantime, or social media onslaught continues with a brand new Twitter account – NolanParkerAuthors – so nip over and give us a follow for all the latest news and fun.

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Now we are 10…

10th Birthday CakeyPhil: 10 years ago, the world looked very different. Candice and I were sat at a quango in Coventry wondering what to do with ourselves.

The incoming Conservative government* had decided our employer was surplus to requirements. The age of austerity beckoned. The place was closing down, but we still had to turn up for work under the terms of our contracts. It’s just that there wasn’t anything to do when we got there.

So, we started writing.

Much of our first book, Kate vs The Dirtboffins was formulated during discussions over the desk dividers or during coffee or lunch breaks. How lovely to be able to chat within arm’s length!

Since those days we’ve carried on writing, and just as importantly, chatting. There have been changes of job. One of us has given birth (No spoilers, you can work out who for yourself) and plenty of cake.

We have always been proud of the Dirtboffins, but there has been a niggle in the back of our collective minds that it wasn’t quite polished enough. Yes, people enjoyed the read, but as an author, you want to feel your book is a shiny penny, perfect as can be.

So, to celebrate our birthday as writers, we’ve had it properly proof-read by someone who has taken us to task in a few places. The punctuation is much better (as good as book 2 in fact, thanks again Katherine) and so is the grammar. And one or two timeline issues have been fixed.

All this will be revealed next week when Kate vs The Dirtboffins re-launches with a brand new shiny cover and a few extra pages inside.

Watch this space, the journey continues…

 

*Strictly speaking, Michael Gove. I wanted to slap him then, and I still do. Not everything changes!

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Support your local bookshop

Phil: I’m running out of books to read.

Fortunately, a couple of local bookshops have been tweeting for support and promising local deliveries.

At the same time, I spotted that Edd China – Grease Monkey was appearing in paperback. A quick e-mail followed by some money transfer and the order was placed. A week later, a knock on the front door and a paper bag containing the book appeared. The seller being suitably distanced by the time I picked it up. Thank you Warwick Books.

These are really tough times for small shops and those selling books will find it harder than most. Need something to read? Amazon is waiting…

A couple of second-hand bookshops are offering lucky dip selections. You tell them the genre you want, they will pick a boxful for you and deliver or post. A clever idea and one that could see readers discover new writers they will love in the future.

Everyone wins!

(Incidentally, if you’d like my review of the book, it’s here)

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Still juggling

Phil: Apparently, there are people right at this moment who are effortlessly gliding between a morning Joe Wix workout, putting in a days work, knocking up some banana bread and rounding their evening off with some sort of quiz via Zoom. In a few moments downtime, they are learning Italian and to play the accordion.

Either that, or they are lying through their social media teeth.

We were supposed to be re-launching our first book tomorrow. The text has been proofed to death and a new cover is being designed. But that’s as far as we’ve got.

The new cover idea is coming together but slower than we’d like because our designer is juggling her life, and we are juggling ours so comments haven’t been fired back yet.

I’m supposed to be adding an interview with us to the text and to date, have amassed exactly two questions.

Oh, and the social media guru we’re talking too, well we’ve not replied yet.

I don’t get this. I thought removing any chance of going and doing interesting things would free up time but it just seems to be worse. Nolan and I have talked (via social distancing video systems) twice. I’m busy, she’s busy. I don’t have a small person to entertain or home-made manicures to perform, but I do keep getting tied up in other projects. Admittedly, one of those helped raise over seven grand for the NHS charities last weekend, so it’s not all bad, but still – time!

Neither of us is a key worker either, and so my lack of usefulness makes me feel even more guilty and useless.  I don’t care if Grammarly tells me that I’m more productive than 90% of users right now, it doesn’t feel that way.

One day though, we’ll be through this and one day we’ll get this book out. Then on to book 3!

Maybe it’s enough just to have a dream in these dark days. I hope so.

Stay safe.

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Hoots mon, the scones are unbearably light!

Phil: Although I’m not Scottish, my ancestry does permit me to wear the Lamont tartan, I’m partial to a bit of Lorne sausage and even a portion of fried haggis. I also consider the Tunnocks teacake one of the finest delicacies in the shops. The caramel wafers aren’t bad either.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones caught my eye in the book pile at work for a couple of reasons. I like scones, and it’s set in Scotland Street, Edinburgh.

I’ve been there, mainly because at one end of it was a railway yard and I spent much time helping out a friend who had built a model of it exhibits his efforts around the country. That it is written by Alexander McCall Smith was less appealing as I’ve never got into his Number One Ladies Detective Agency series, no matter how good people tell me it is.

Anyway, this is an interesting book that defies many literary conventions.

For a start, there is a huge amount of text that doesn’t move the story forward. All that stuff we are told to edit out. Well, not here. The characters head off at tangents, spend a long time thinking of random things and generally using lots and lots of words. Far from light, it’s actually quite dense and took me a couple of attempts to get going with.

The other oddity is there isn’t really a plot. Things happen, but we never get the feeling that anything significant is happening, but this isn’t a bad thing.

What we have a literary soap opera. My understanding is that the 100 (yes one hundred!) chapters are from the Scotsman newspaper and published on a daily basis. The books are collections of these for those who want their tales of Edinburgh life in a single helping. So, there are lots of characters living independent, but sometimes interconnected lives.  Along the way, several points are made by the author – for example, one of the characters is a small child whose overbearing mother could come straight out of the Guardian cliche lineup with her strident feminist ideas.

It’s a book riven with tartan too. You don’t see the pretender to the Scottish throne pop up very often not Jacobite being used as a slur. Do people still care about that stuff? Even one of the art sub-plots centres on a portrait of Robbie Burns.

If you can get past the style, then I can understand why the residents of Scotland Street become as popular as those of Glebe Street, albeit, representing a very modern take on their home city that will be a revelation to many readers from south of the border. This book could have been set in London in many respects. That it isn’t is a credit to the author, and probably a credit to his previous success allowing him to say a firm “No” to any publisher suggesting that he’s picked the wrong capital.

I got into the story after a few chapters and once in, worked my way through pleasantly quickly. I didn’t dare leave it too long between reading sessions for fear of losing the plot, but as the chapters are short, and the focus moved between different plot threads, it’s an easy book to pick up and put down for short bursts of reading between other jobs.

Now if you don’t mind, I think there is one more teacake in the fridge…

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