Category Archives: Writing

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

The Book of Two Ways

Candice: Buying some books for my holiday the other month I picked up this. The premise sounded interesting, and a bit different from my usual murder mystery or woman’s romance novel.

There are two strands to the book, which is part of what interested me about the story. The first is a love story, the second a history of Egypt. I’ve always been interested in Egyptology, years ago I was supposed to go to Egypt but couldn’t because a volcanic ash cloud stopped all the flights. I’ve haven’t got there since due to one thing or another but I’d still like to go and see the pyramids one day.

The story follows American Dawn, who was an Egyptologist, highly rated at her University and with future plans to discover new tombs and more history. Her nemesis, is Wyatt, British Aristo, who is fighting to be top dog with her Professor both on the cause and on the dig. While in Egypt the two of them discover that their animosity also breeds passion and they have a tumultuous love hate relationship.

Out of the blue while they are away Dawn receives a call to say her Mother has passed away, leaving her in charge of her much younger brother. She has to leave Egypt and Wyatt and take up a new life at home, looking after her brother and giving up her PhD.

Fifteen years on she is married and a daughter but she just feels like something is missing. She meets a new client though her work as a death doula, someone who helps those terminally ill, who wants to pass a message to her lost love from many years ago. This, plus the suspicion that Dawn has that her husband has been looking elsewhere for attention makes her rethink her old life, and her old love.

On a whim she catches a plane to Egypt and reconnects with Wyatt. Their love has not died and they realise, though all this time has passed they are meant to be together. However, on the flight home the plane crashes and Dawn has to tell her husband and daughter about him, rather sooner than she planned.

The story twists and turns between past and present, Dawn’s earlier interactions with Wyatt and her present day confusion over her marriage and issues with her daughter. Its interspersed with lots of historic Egypt references which add an extra layer to the love story.

Its about following and not giving up on your dreams, even when a long time has passed. I think her job helps to carry the story as it shapes the idea that we could all die tomorrow, and therefore life is to be lived. I really enjoyed it, it stretched my brain a bit more than the usual read.

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Farewell to MY library

Sign

Phil: I went to the library on Monday. Nothing unusual in that you might thing, but I went on a mission.

You see, the library I have known all my life, is closing down. When the doors closed at the end of that day, they would open no more. The walls won’t resound to the sound of children enjoying being read a story. No longer will adults browse the shelves, wondering where the pages of a good book would take them in the next few weeks.

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OK, I’m being maudalin. The library isn’t really closing, it’s moving to a new community hub around the corner. There will be a cafe, multi-puropse sports hall and meeting rooms you can book. Outside there is parking and a children’s playground. It’s next to the shops – pretty much everything our little town can offer all within a few feet.

But I had to go and pay one last visit. I’m sure the new place will be lovely, but it won’t have that airy 1960s feel of the old library. More to the point, it won’t be the one I spent hours chosing my books from as a child.

I know things have to move on. When I borrow books now, they are placed in a machine to book them out to me, something that would have seemed like magic back in the 1970s, and young Phil would have been desperate to have a go with it! No little card wallets nowadays. No librarian stamping the date in the front of each one either. Lot of stamps meant I’d borrowed a popular title, and you also knew when the books were due back, something far easier than logging on to the library website, which is what you have to do now.

Just for old times sake, I wanted to borrow some more books. My reading has been hopeless recently. Maybe the impending fines will make me buck my ideas up a bit.

Books

My choice were a couple of “grown-up” books, becuase they appealed to me. And Five on a treasure island, because when I was a kid, I read all the Famous Five books, mostly from this very library.

I’ll miss the old place. Libraries are the last public spaces you can visit and no-one expects you to hand over money. Books will still be available for loan in the new community hub, that is a very good thing, and I’m sure a new generation will become as nostalgic about it as I am about MY library.

Now, can someone lend me a pile of cash? There’s a nice looking 1960s property coming up for sale nearby, and I think I’d like to live in it. There are even enough book shelves…

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Time for a proper holiday read

Candice: I’ve just come back from a great weeks holiday in the sun. It was great for lots of reasons one of the main ones being it was a proper break for the first time in a long time. I got on an airplane, something that felt very alien compared to two years ago, where it was a twice a year event. I really had to remind myself what to pack and what I needed to remember for the airport, apart from the additional Covid stuff. Thankfully I remembered the clear bag for liquids in your carry on luggage at the last minute!

Arriving in the Canaries was heaven. It wasn’t a ground breaking holiday, I didn’t go and see anything from the seven wonders of the world, I didn’t really do anything but work out one of the many ways to get to the breakfast area, which pool to lie by (there were seven) and what entertainment we were going to watch in the evening. There was a regular visit to the mini disco!

But what it did provide was a chance to wind down, and also read. Due to baggage space I only packed two physical books, but quickly realised that wasn’t going to be enough. Pre-child I would have taken four books on a weeks holiday, but I’ve got into taking less as I don’t usually get so much sunlounger time. Or I would have dived into the hotel library, but with Covid this concept has disappeared.

The first book I read was a Sophie Kinsella – ‘Love Your Life’. She is well known for writing the ‘Shopaholic’ series, which I have to say I am not a big fan of. The main character is a bit too wet. But, as we all are, she has moved on a bit, though her females are still a bit too weak for my liking. The story however was a simple premise that I rattled through pool side and when chilling in my room. A quick synopsis of the story is two characters meet on a writing retreat where they are asked to stay anonymous. They fall in love. When they get home they are not the people they thought they were. But love wins out. Along the way there are some funny scenarios but also some comments on relationships, communication and compromise which struck as chord,

Having finished book 1 I got concerned. It was only three days into the holiday. Before we’d left I’d signed up to Kindle Unlimited so I had a moment of inspiration and downloaded some books on to my phone. But I also wound down more, and just got into the habit of people watching and relaxing, so less reading needed. By the time I came back I’d half read two other books (one Kindle one paper as you can’t read a phone screen in the sun) both of which I am finishing off now.

It was lovely to had some time for back to back reading, something I don’t get to do so much at home. Though I have to say since I’ve been home, with the dark nights now starting I have been picking up a book when I finish work rather than turning on the TV for a post work wind down, and it feels good.

Holding on to that holiday vibe as long as I can, and planning to book the next one asap!

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The Man I Think I Know

MITHIKEver since ‘the incident’, James DeWitt has stayed on the safe side.

He likes to know what happens next.

Danny Allen is not on the safe side. He is more past the point of no return.

The past is about to catch up with both of them in a way that which will change their lives forever, unexpectedly.

But redemption can come in the most unlikely ways.

Phil: I’ve been rubbish at reading recently. Too busy. Too tired. I just want to slump at the end of the day. I know I’ll enjoy doing something different, but I just can’t be bothered.

A rare train ride presented me with some time to crack open this book. 48 hours later, I’d finished it. The words slid down as easily a glass of chocolate milk. (You many sustitute your own drink of choice, but I like chocolate flavour milk.)

Mike Gayle tells the story of James DeWitt, a high-flyer brought crashing down after an incident in a nighclub. Left badly mentally scarred, he needs looking after. His parents have taken on the task, but they are stiffling him.

Danny Allen is also damaged, and has thrown away the benefits of a “good” education. He doesn’t have anything to look forward too. In desperperation, the DSS force him to become a carer, and through work, he meets James.

What follows is a story of redemption and recovery. Most reviews make the point that the book centres on a caring male freindship and that’s true. Very few female characters play much of a part. Normally, this would be seen as a bad thing, or at least odd, but here it’s perfectly natural. There’s no love between the main characters, but a mutual need.

It also exposes a sad fact – some people end up working in care homes because they have no other options. It’s badly paid hard work. Sadly, society doesn’t value a person who ends up wiping anothers backside. Yes, many people will be drawn to a “caring” profession, but others just find themselves at the bottom of the pile and really shouldn’t be there. It’s a subtle, but savage inditement of how little we care about those who need help either through age, or disability.

This is feelgood reading, but with a message. You are rooting for all the characters pretty much from the start. Mike Gayle dangles a few mysteries, such as the incidents that caused James and Danny to be where they are in life to keep the interest up, but never over-eggs this. You are reading because the writing is good, not to resolve the false jeapordy. Everything is written in the first person, which means James has natural sounding, slighly odd, disjointed speach, but it never gets in the way.

There’s a lot of pride involved, something appropriate to male characters. Both need help, but don’t want to reach out for it. When they do, mainly through the goading of the other, their lives start to imporove.

There’s a message in there.

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Superstitious me

Phil: I wasn’t going to write this blog post. At half past seven, I messaged Candice to say, “Oops. Just switched the computer off and realized I haven’t blogged. I need to pack so will do it tomorrow. I’m sure no one will mind!”

I was serious. There’s a lot to pack for tomorrows work, and I had been on the computer quite a bit. The sensible thing would be to chill, get an early night and write something wonderful when I got back home.

So how come I’m typing this at twenty past nine in the evening?

Superstition.

Knawing away at me as I watched The Great British Bake Off, was the thought that if I didn’t write a post, somehow this would bring me bad luck. Something would go wrong tomorrow.

Now, I’m a bit of a nervous driver anyway. I instinctivly caveat any discussion of the future with “if everything goes OK” or “all being well” if there is a journey involved by car. Bring an aeroplane into the equation and I’m refusing to think about the future, because if I do, I’ll jinx it and bad things will happen.

I know lots of people try to tidy things up before going on holiday, so I’m not completely alone, or mad. We all worry about things and then try irrational ways to control them. Just some of us are worse than others.

I’ll “touch wood” for luck, but not in any serious way. Ladders don’t bother me.

But trying to make a deal with fate – I’ll write this blog but keep me safe and make sure my cameras work properly – is daft, I know it is. But then that’s the nature of irrational thoughts – they are irrational.And those little routines we develop to placate the gods of fate, maybe they are just warm, friendly moments that calm our nerves. But then that would make them rational things to do…

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The name’s Bond…. Candice Bond

Candice: So my turn for a review of the new Bond film. I’ve also been a fan of Bond over the years, I was more of a Roger Moore than Sean Connery (influenced by my Mom). I’ve loved the sophistication of the films; the settings, the cars, the clothing. Plus the gadgets, everyone loves a gadget.

Unlike Phil I’m not a Bond buff though, I know my theme tunes and some of the cars but not down to the infinite detail. I just like a good film, with some action, some romance and a nice man at the centre for me to look at. Daniel Craig has certainly helped that over the years…. yum.

I was really looking forward to this film for lots of reasons, Mr Craig was one (Phil found that out when I sighed with pleasure when he came on screen), the escapism was the other. After a year and a half of rubbish in Covid and personal life this was a chance to disappear for 2 3/4 hours into another world. And disappear I did. I loved all the flash, the fun, the intrigue. But with a twist for 2021, the women were stronger, Bond had a weakness (or three), the central premise wasn’t all about him saving the girl (or in this case it was a little girl who just reminded me of my daughter). There were plot holes you could drive a truck (or Land Rover Discovery) through, but who cares, it was fun.

One of my favourite scenes was in Cuba where he and a very able female agent took down a room of Spectre agents. It was old school Bond with new school Bond. Confusing plot and complicated weapon to do a simple job – tick. Multiple Extras in amazing costumes – check. Bond and side kick looking vey dapper whilst taking the room apart – check . (Even though I know about tit tape I am still wondering how she kept that dress on!). Complicated scenes where it is unlikely they will come out alive…but they do – check. All the fun that you want from a film, that still has its tongue slightly in its cheek, though much less that the Roger Moore days.

But this film did have more, it gave Bond a soul. He was more than just a ‘shag beast’ working his way round women between killing off baddies. And it gave him age, at the start he wasn’t the prime candidate, his young female replacement was.

I’m not sure where they will go next (please don’t make him female, that will just ruin it) but I do hope they do keep some of the original elements that make Bond Bond, but add in that extra spice of where the world is now. And even if I get a numb bum again, I’d go and see it just for the escapism.

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No Time to Die – Phil’s thoughts

NTTD

Phil: On the basis that there isn’t enough talk on the web about the new James Bond film, No Time to Die, Candice and I decided we’d add our thoughts having seen the film at the weekend. I’m going first, La Nolan follows up next week. She’s promised not to read mine before putting finger to keyboard too.

Warning: This post contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film, and don’t want to know what happens, then stop reading NOW!!!

OK, there is a lot in this film for the Bond nerds. Since I am a nerd, that means I enjoyed it quite a lot and I can see myself getting more from it each time I watch.

For example, there are the cars. Obviously, we start with the Aston Martin DB5 (the silver one) because you can’t have a James Bond film without it. Except the ones where we did, but let’s not pick holes. Car buffs have complained that there’s no way the DB5 could hold it’s own against the cars chasing it, but they forget that Q Branch has rebuilt it several times and may have taken the opportunity to do something about both engine and suspension when fitting machine guns etc. Also, that this is not a documentary.

But, the DB5 is replaced after the opening sequence with the V8 Vantage last seen in The Living Daylights. With the silver machine away for repair, he heads off to a lock-up and whips the cover of this car. In the lock-up is some assorted other junk including the little bulldog Bond inherited in Skyfall. Interestingly, in that film, he had a lock-up with the DB5 in it. Does he have them all over London with every car he’s driven stashed away? Is the submersible Lotus Esprit tucked away somewhere? What about that 2CV?

Anyway, there’s a lot for the book Bond fan here. He retires to Jamaica, just as his did after On Her Majesties Service in the books. Ian Fleming was a resident in the country for a while, which is why his creation loves it so much. He’s a damaged man in the film (broken in the books) and has to be persuaded back to work by his replacement, a (gasp) woman.

The biggest problem for me with the film, is the villain, or at least his master plan. After acquiring a poison containing nanobots (killing Hugh Dennis along the way), he bumps off everyone in Spectre and then appears to be planning to poison the whole world. This requires lots of poison vials to be encoded with lots and lots of people’s DNA. Why bother? In Moonraker, Drax just lobs some poison globes out of a space station with pretty much the same aim, a much simpler scheme. And Drax plans to repopulate the Earth, Safin doesn’t seem to have any real plan, he’s just upset that Spectre killed his family. I mean, it’s sad and all, but you can’t help feeling that he could have done a bit more planning.

Other stuff: Landrover has released a special edition Defender and Range Rover to tie in with the film. There is a lot of product placement for these, but since most of them end up on the roofs or otherwise destroyed, and Bond beats them all in a 25-year-old Toyota Landcruiser, you have to wonder if it’s the advert the boys from Solihull were hoping for.

There’s a lot of fuss about Lashana Lynch becoming the new 007 in the movie, but she doesn’t seem to do that much. Certainly nothing like the fighting that Michelle Yeoh managed to pack in during Tomorrow Never Dies. Even Ana de Armas manages more punch (and some funnies as well) in a rather pointless, but superb, scene in Cuba. Managing to take on numerous baddies in high-heels and not fall out of her dress, is incredibly impressive.

But, the biggie. The ending. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the film, look away now.

At the start of the film, we have the refrain “We have all the time in the world” from OHMSS – the music that comes in just after Bonds’ wife has been gunned down in front of him and George Lazenby gets to emote like no Bond had done before, and wouldn’t again until Craig. At the time, Bond and Madeleine were heading off, very much in love. You might have thought that finally 007 had found happiness again. After all, same woman for several films, so quite a change.

But there is another important takeaway from OHMSS. In the opening sequence of that film, Lazenby says at the end of a fight, “This never happened to the other fellow”. Huh? What other fellow? OK, the actor has changed, and would change back for Diamonds are Forever, but we thought we were watching the same person, even if he looks different every few years.

Anyway, at the end of NTTD, Bond stands on the top of the evil lair, waiting for the missiles to arrive that will destroy both it, and him (told you there were spoilers). He can’t go home for he is infected with nanobots that will kill both Madeliene and his daughter, so sacrifices himself for both of them.

Does this mean the end of the franchise? I think not. You see, if Bond were one person, he’d have been spying for 60 years. I appreciate Roger Moore looked old, but never that bad, not even in A View to a Kill.

So, if we remember Lazenby’s line, could it be that the name James Bond is a codename? That everyone who takes the job gets the name? OK, there is an issue with the history of Skyfall and the books, where it certainly appears that Bond is one person else how could they have that back story? But, in Skyfall, I recall there was a mention that the service preferred to recruit orphans, the lack of family ties making them better agents.

So, I don’t think this is the end for Bond. The clues are in the film, just just have to be nerdy enough to spot them.

 

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Cheers for breakfast

Cheerslogo

Phil: Since I don’t have a small child to get ready for school in the morning, if I’m so minded, I can take my time and linger a bit over my bowl of breakfast cereal. It’s a great time to catch up on some magazine reading, and since I prefer to work later, I don’t see any panic to be sat in front of a computer terribly early.

In the past, this would be accompanied by BBC Breakfast News. I suppose it’s useful to catch up on the various happenings in the world, but if I’m honest, knowing the weather forecast is probably more practical.

But, with Brexit, all this stopped. Yes, I might catch the weather and local news, but the rest of the time the airwaves were filled with people shouting at each other. And just as Brexit leaves the stage, along comes Covid, and the news editors decided our mornings should start with a blast of ratings-gathering doom and gloom.Even as this recedes in interest, we’re treated to more disaster with (currently) empty shelves, price rises, lack of power etc.

Enough!

For a very long while, there has been no TV. Telly snobs will say this is a good thing, but I grew up with the magic box and get just as annoyed with those who boast about not watching it, as I do with those who devote their entire lives, and a complete wall in their lounge, to the screen.

Idly flicking through the channels on a very relaxed morning, I found that I could watch the 1980s American sitcom Cheers with my cereal.

Set in a Boston bar, the show features a pretty static line-up of characters, very few of whom can be described as high-flyers (OK, Fraiser, but the rest). It’s warm. It’s cosy. As the theme song goes:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name

And they are right. We all want to find our little community, where we fit in and the rest are pleased to see us.

Of course, the other reason I enjoy watching the show over breakfast is it seems so deliciously naughty to do so. Grown-ups are supposed to want to know what is in the news, even if there is nothing we can do about it. Cheers, and other shows are for the evening.

Side-stepping the expected norm feels a bit like bunking off school, or deliberately taking a longer lunch at work when you know you’ll probably get away with it. Naughty, but in a safe way.

Best of all, the warm and fuzzy accompaniment to y Fruit’n’fibre probably puts me in a better frame of mind to face the day. Or reminds me that I might be happier sat on a bar stool, drinking beer, and watching the world go by.

As the theme goes, “Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot“.

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Missing deadlines!

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Candice: I have become a library convert in the last six month, as you know. However, I keep having a problem that I forget when my books need to be back!

I’m not sure whether its the lack of structure with the ongoing working from home, or the upheaval that has been going on in my my life but yet again I got a message the other day saying we’ve frozen your account!

This is unusual for me as I am a fast reader but this time I had only managed one and a half books in the three weeks. I suppose I did have the distraction of reading another book which wasn’t from the library, plus a long weekend camping where I didn’t get as much reading done as I would have hoped.

Anyway all renewed now until next time, and a note put in my phone to tell me when they need to go back (and I’ve just finished the second book this morning).

Is anyone else still finding this whole Covid weirdness is messing with their usual organisational skills? I am now back in the office one or two days a week but I haven’t quite got that down into a rhythm. It was really nice to be in the office yesterday but its still not ‘normal’ yet by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve got another winter to get through and who knows what fun that will bring.

Anyway, we’ve got this far, something I’m sure none of us thought we’d be able to do a year and a half ago. There are mutterings of Christmas party at work, something I really excited about. Would be great if that comes off. This weekend felt almost normal as I went to an outdoor pop concert and had a boogie. Loved that.

But the biggest missed deadline I have is my own – finishing the writing I started in July. I am determined to pull my finger out and get that big finish done. I have time this weekend so ‘focus Nolan’ and get your finger out on the writing. I know I feel better if I do.

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It’s all about telling stories

Phil on the micPhil: For the first time in years, I find myself having to give a talk to a room full of people tomorrow. It’s a work gig, not a literary one, but I’ve just remembered something.

I don’t like writing presentations.

I love giving them. Public speaking has never worried me, at least as long as I know what I’m talking about. Unlike my writing friend, I don’t suffer from stage fright. I’ve happily stood in front of a few hundred people using the magic of PowerPoint to entertain them. Generally it goes well. OK, there was this one time, but that’s another story.

Actually writing a talk though, is a bit of a slog. Even drawing up a spider diagram and try to work out the correct order for the slides, and exactly what should be on them doesn’t ease the pain.

Then, I had a brainwave.

First: Open a packet of Maltesers. I need brain food.

Second: The first half of the talk is a story. I’m explaining how I came to be in the hobby I’m talking about. With this in mind, the whole thing becomes easily linear. No need to work out diagrams, just tell the tale. With plenty of photos.

My presentations are always full of photos. The less words there are, the more I can busk it on stage and adjust the talk to the time and audience. And if there is one thing I really hate, it’s a presenter who does no more than read every word off every slide. I can do that, and generally, quicker than they can.

Thinking about this a bit more, most of my job involves telling a story. When I explain how to make something, I take the reader through things step by step until we reach a joyful conclusion. Along the way, there are diversions and even a bit of jeopardy.

In fact, pretty much every form of communication is a sort of storytelling. Maybe they don’t all start “Once upon a time”, but that’s how humans tell each other stuff.

And having been so profound, I better get back to writing my talk…

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