Category Archives: Phil

How many chapters is enough?

Phil: We’re making excellent progress with Book 2 – but the 80,000 word target is still bugging us as we aren’t there yet.

“If something doesn’t move the story forward, leave it out.” is the traditional advice to writers, but we’re wondering if we have been too efficient. There’s been a lot of planning in the book, lessons learned from last time, and it’s pretty fat-free. I can’t see anyone lopping a thousand words out this time!

So, we are looking hard and thinking about areas that need fleshing out. An obvious problem is that while we know what certain people and places look like, it would be really helpful if we told the reader. Several scenes have now been enlivened by a bit of description, adding many hundred of words in the process.

Last Friday we sat down in an excellent farm shop cafe with the laptops intending to do some writing. And eat some cake, but mostly to do some writing.

What we actually did was to go through the book as it stands and write a timeline. Candice skimmed each chapter and I typed the synopsis into a spreadsheet. We created an overview of the story which included a surprise.

49 chapters.

That’s the not the end though. Some of those included far too many scenes. Later in the day I broke them up and we now have 56.

I don’t think this is a problem. Personally, I like short chapters. When reading I can think I’ll just finish another one before putting the bookmark back in. If it’s half-a-dozen pages then I might be tempted to do just one more. If it’s 30 then forget it. Short chapters add pace to the story.

Anyway, the upshot is that our overview revealed not too many plot holes. The book is nearly ready for its first test readers…

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Work where you want to

 

Phil: We are hard at work writing Kate vs the Navy and are grabbing any chance we get to put a few words onto the page.

Last weekend I was on a stand at a model boat show and knowing it would be reasonably quiet on the Sunday, took my laptop along. Fitting on the corner of our stand, appropriately enough, I was working while surrounded by miniature waterborne military craft. It helped too as Candice had left me some ship describing to do and from where I sat, I could see a model of the very vessel I was writing about. Very handy indeed!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Tom Swifty

Phil: Great excitement! I’ve discovered a new type of pun!

I love a bit of wordplay and have wasted many hours at work over the years punning with colleagues. As I recall, any mention of fish usually resulted in five minutes of amusement. Partly at our sparkling wit but also at the groans of those people who think puns are the lowest form of humour.

Anyway, I was listening to the radio the other day and someone mentioned “Tom Swiftie” puns.

According to Wikipedia, A Tom Swifty (or Tom Swiftie) is a phrase in which a quoted sentence is linked by a pun to the manner in which it is attributed.

For example:

“That’s the last time I’ll stick my arm into a lion’s mouth,” the lion-tamer said off-handedly.

“I need a new pencil sharpener”, said Phil bluntly.

“I wonder if this radium is radioactive?” asked Marie curiously.

“Walk this way,” Tom said stridently.

“The exit is right there,” Candice pointed out.

I could go on, but have found a web page with 400 examples if you need more.

Just look out for those I manage to sneak into Book 2…

1 Comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Waving a workhorse goodbye

Phil: Last week I said goodbye to a faithful companion. After years of service, it was time to upgrade my computer.

I’ve been putting this off for a long while. The old one worked OK and apart from a hard drive crash, did all I asked of it. I’m not exactly a demanding user, some wordy processing, photo editing and web browsing were all required. The operating system might have dated to the early part of this century, but at least it wasn’t the applaing, unusable Windows 8.

The silicon sands of computer time moved on of course. Gradually I found web browsers weren’t available and when even Firefox said they wouldn’t support Windows Vista any more, then I knew the game was up. To be honest, the camera card reading ports on the front were playing up too and for the work I do, this is serious.

A final nudge was a chunk of cash from work over Christmas arriving in my bank account. Off I strolled to the local computer shop I went to discuss some options. Mostly those that involved them, not me, transferring data between the two machines. Another barrier to upgrades was the anticipated “joy” of moving files and tidying up afterwards. Two days frustrating work normally.

Anyway, the day dawned and I dropped my old computer in. Our arrangement was that they would move the e-mail over (£10 well spent) and install the old hard drive in the new box in addition to a couple of others. On the experts advice, I have all my software on an SSD drive for whizzo performance and all the data on a conventional drive for easy backup. One of the benefits of using a trusted local store is that someone brighter than a sofa can advise me.

Leaving the old box behind, I couldn’t help feeling sorry. On this computer I have types millions of words. One and half novels, hundred of magazine articles and thousands of blog posts. There is no more important a tool available to me. Without it, I’m lost, unemployable and broke. With it, I can access the world and communicate. That old PC has served me well for years, day in, day out, and now it will be stripped for parts and recycled.

Yes, I know it’s only a machine. I just get a bit sentimental that’s all.

Now I have a new black box on the desk. It runs Windows 10, which I don’t hate but it’s not as good as Windows 3.11. The front ports work, boot-up doesn’t take 5 minutes and the desktop shows slides from past holidays. At the moment my life is like moving into a new house. I know everything is there, I just can’t always put my hand on the file I want straight away. Organisation is taking place and eventually things will be where I want them. Eventually old box will be forgotten.

For the moment though, thank you old friend.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

So THAT’S what the song is all about.

Phil: Last week, Candice was blogging about one of her earliest favourite albums – Phil Collins “No Jacket Required” and by coincidence, I was listing to a show on the radio about one of mine.

1985 saw the release of Suzanne Vega’s eponymous first album and to promote it, the first single “Marlene on the Wall” enjoyed heavy rotation on Radio 1. What I should have done is rushed out and bought the album, but in those days, my local library loaned proper vinyl albums out so I simply borrowed it and made a tape using my sisters record player and the tape recorder I used for my ZX Spectrum. Obviously this is bad so don’t do it kids. As they said at the time, “Home taping is killing music” even if the phrase “It tapes tapes” appeared on every stereo system in my mum’s catalogues at the time.

Anyway, while I liked the songs and the imagery, the inspiration for the lyrics was always a bit of a mystery. Until I heard Johnnie Walker’s Long Players last week. The program covered the album track by track with explanations of each from Vega.

Much of it was slightly disappointing, stuff about songs being something to do with whoever she was dating at the time but for pure weirdness, the track “Small Blue Thing” wins.

Inspiration struck when she saw the blue doorknob in a boyfriends apartment. In the centre of the knob (stop sniggering at the back) was the image of a blue eyeball. All of which inspired the opening lines:

Today I am
A small blue thing
Like a marble
Or an eye

Utter barking mad, but oddly, still sounds good today.

So, songwriter, get down to the ironmonger’s for your next hit. It just shows, ideas can come from anywhere.

Mind you, if you think this is oddball, I’m working out how to shoehorn a Lieutenant Pigeon joke into our latest book just to see if anyone spots it…

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Step away from the hovercraft…

Phil: Our latest luncheon meet-up was notable for a couple of things.

First, the queue for the cake was so long and slow-moving that I had to settle for a baguette that was delicious, but the same colour as my shoe.

Second, we came up with a significant new addition to the text that both fills a hole in the story and provides a chance to add more funny stuff. Because of that, writing the first draft falls to me. I’m researching at the moment.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading a book about hovercraft. I’m fascinated by them having managed to take a ride across the channel and back the weekend before they were taken out of service back in 2000.

From this, I discover there was a hovercraft development site not very far from the fictional island we’ve set Kate vs the Navy on.

This sets me thinking, can I include this in the story? There is a definite place for it if I changed a boat into a hovercraft. There would even be some logic to the change.

But then I realised that appealing as the idea was, I’d need to make more and more changes to the existing text and most of these would add nothing other than the chance to satisfy my love of hovercraft. That’s not a good reason to mess around. Worse, as hovercraft are much harder to control than boats, there would be a definite credibility gap at a crucial point. Not perhaps one that many people would spot, but if I were a reader, it would annoy me and you don’t want to annoy your reader.

I guess the lesson to be learned is that you can’t cram all the ideas you have into a book. The secret is to assemble the best ones and learn to put the others back in the box for another day.

Back to the stuff I’m supposed to be reading up on…

2 Comments

Filed under Phil, Writing

No libraries = No Terry Pratchett

pterrylibrary

Phil: This week’s blog post was set to be something whimsical and lightweight. Then I sat in my hotel room on Saturday night after a couple of bottles of pomegranate and strawberry cider washing down a rather nice curry, and flipped on the telly.

Terry Pratchett – Back in Black tells the author’s life story. Paul Kaye plays pTerry (as his fans call him) and along the way we meet both famous and non-famous readers. We see how the literary establishment hated his books complete with a cringeworthy clip from a review show that those taking part will probably wish to forget, and later decided he was A. Good. Thing. Along with another clip of more literary people saying this.

I’ve tried but failed to read Pratchett. I ought to love it but I can’t find a way in. It doesn’t matter, the documentary is brilliant, affecting and a superb celebration of the man.

What struck me was that before he wrote, he read. Everything. Well, everything in his local library starting with fantasy and then history, “Blokes in helmets bashing each other” as he described it. Reading planted all the seeds for the character in his stories.

This week, I read in my local paper that our council is making more cuts. Headlines are those for old people or children but tucked away are libraries – again.

I’ve said before how my local library was essential for my development. I’m not going to compare myself with Pratchett but to lift a line from the documentary, I’m a human. He is a human. My poo stinks. His poo stinks. I loved my library. He loved his library. He is a writer. I want to be a writer.

Does it matter if we deny kids the chance to wallow in reading? Probably not. After all, do we need people with imagination?

Sorry, I’m ranting. Go and watch the programme on iPlayer while you have a the chance. Just keep some tissues handy…

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing