Category Archives: Writing

Looking for the happy ending

Phil: Does anyone else feel like they are being blown along by events at the moment?

We seem to be inching along to some sort of normality, but with very little idea what the new version of “normal” is, or whether it will be as nice as the old version. Everything is up in the air, except those hoping to go on holiday, who suddenly find themselves grounded.

Maybe this is why books are such a comfort. Even in the grimmest of “misery memoirs”, the ones that start with rape and get progressively worse, you have the expectation that by the end, everyone will be happy again with the worst of the problems behind them.

In our genre of humourous chick-lit, the girl will get her boy and be heading off to happily ever after land. I don’t think that I’m giving away a massive spoiler if I say that we expect Kate and Dave together by the end of our series. Anything else would upset the readers.

For most of us, Covid is the first time we have been in the middle of a massive event over which we have little control. We don’t generally, live in a war zone or a famine thank goodness. Now though, we look at the news and wonder what new plot twist is about to come our way. I’m hoping that whoever is writing this story and think that they have thrown quite enough at us. It’s making me have sympathy for our fictional characters and the wringer we have to put them through!

Let’s just hope that we’re a long way through the story and can soon close the cover with the satisfaction of a happy ending.

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What’s in your background?

Phil: In the world of lockdown and social distancing, while we might not be meeting up with others, another portal has opened into all of our lives – the Zoom video call.

Suddenly, your friends and colleagues are able to gawp into your house and we can see into theirs.

This calls for some work on our own personal TV studios. Politicians go to great efforts to include suitable books behind them. In general, books are a safe choice as they say that you can read – and being able to read counts as being an intellectual nowadays. The suspicion is that no-one has actually opened the volumes behind them but interviewers never seem to ask.

Others take a different tack. My favourite is seen above. George Hinchliffe, founder of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. In the video for their superb and hilarious rendition of Wuthering Heights (get me with the literary references) he has casually hung some printed 50 euro notes among the instruments. They are never mentioned, just there. The rest of the band, also working from their own homes, have entertaining staging.

I’m not immune. Recently, I had to interview telly star Tim Dunn, and realised that the background of my clutter “office” wasn’t quite right, so dressed the set with some trains (we were talking about trains).

There is even a sneaky advert for the magazine I edit.

Tim, being a proper nerd, had done likewise.

What you don’t see, because I edited it out, is the discussion over the large scale High-Speed Train in the background. Tim also recognised some of the models behind me. He is that much of a rail anorak.

The point is that we have yet another way to send out subtle messages about ourselves. Like the face coverings last week, this is all new thanks to COVID. Twelve months ago, who would have really considered all this, now it’s second nature.

Anyway, time for some entertainment. Just play this.

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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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101 days in Lockdown

Image result for female cyclist on road

Candice: So, it’s 101 days since the UK went into full lockdown. Since then I’ve:

  • got very familiar with the local park and housing estate, as I’ve walked around them about 100 times.
  • been very creative with card and tissue paper, coming up with ways to entertain a 6-year-old.
  • made so many cups of tea I’ve lost count, though I don’t think going back and forth to the kitchen counts anywhere near enough steps on my watch.
  • sorted through a huge box of old toys and dolls clothes delivered by my parents and discovered lots of memories (and some great things for my daughter to play with).
  • moved around bedrooms in the house as I’ve tried to find the ideal spot to work, or make it feel like I am going somewhere different each day.
  • tried not to become obsessed with the deliveries arriving for the neighbour who is doing lots of work on their house.
  • got used to one routine: child at home juggling work and school work, to now drop off and pick up at school, with what seems like a very short window between the two.
  • used my bike lots, riding back and forth to school, escaping on bad days for longer bike rides to clear my mind.
  • discovered I can work out at home, but it’s not as effective as going to the gym. (Joe Wicks, you’re good but it’s not enough to offset the sweets/biscuits/Haribo that is consumed when you are having a bad day.)

I’ve proofread two books, read at least 10 more; some good, some truly terrible (Phil, why did you make me read ‘The unbearable lightness of scones’, that is 4 hours of my life I’ll never get back!)

I’ve got frustrated, been in tears, and been angry with the stupidity of all this, and all the people who will insist on putting stupid comments on social media. I’ve turned off my social media and then slowly dipped back in, but once a day rather than every half an hour, to temper my anger.

I’m still not sure what the new norm will be. I’ve got used to only going to the shops occasionally and timing it for when it’s quiet – my bank balance is much happier for this. I now look up when I hear the sound of a plane going over, as this is a very unusual occurrence. I crave a holiday, but I have no idea what that will look like when it comes. I know I’ll be shattered when I eventually have to start travelling to the office, and I’ll have no idea what to wear. And the idea of having to do my face and hair each morning….

But I know I’ll look forward to seeing people. I have really missed socialising. I’ve been lucky and seen quite a lot of my family but, apart from school-related people, everyone else has been hibernating. I went for a run on Monday with a work colleague, at a distance of course, but it was so nice to see someone different!

And my writing chum and I – well we have our second meet on Friday. Coffee, cake, either end of a park bench and book talk. Sounds good to me.

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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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Something old, something new

OutNowtallCandice: What seems like not along time ago Phil and I met at a quango, in what we thought at the time was a bad recession, and found that we had a similar sense of humour and taste in cake.

We also found that we liked to write and wrote a book, and then we wrote another and we still have another in the pipeline.  Book 1 – aka Kate vs the Dirt Boffins was circulated, proofed and launched in a format we thought was pretty good based on the advice we’d had at the time.  But when we did Kate vs the Navy and realised the error of our ways, and that we really needed more input into our writing to make things perfect.  So in the background, I’ve had a niggle about Dirt Boffins as we have been writing Book 3, that Book 1 still isn’t perfect.

But we’ve finally managed to get it right, it’s taken longer than we thought but we’ve got there and last week the new improved version came out.  It has a beautiful new cover, thanks to CollisCreative, some great copy editing thanks to Catherine Fitzsimons plus a final read from my friend Alan (cheers Alan), and then some long nights with me going through it again to try and spot every niggle left.

And now it’s out there; shiny, new and still as good as it was the first time around. I’m still laughing at the same bits, I’m still wondering what happened in the story, and I’m still amazed that Phil and I managed to put pen to paper to create a great a tale.

Now it’s your turn, if you haven’t read it, please give it a go.  If you are on Kindle unlimited you can download for free, otherwise its only 99p.

The first five people to add a comment on this post to say how much they love Phil and my blogs we will arrange to get a free paperback copy to you (did we mention there is a paperback too?), in return for a review on Amazon.

It’s still our pride and joy, and we hope that you will enjoy it too 🙂

 

 

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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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Good Omens?

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Candice:  Phil has been trawling the options for books and I have been looking through TV and film during this protracted period of self-entertainment.

Though the other day I did manage to get my hands on some more new books as we did a share session in our road, everyone bought their spares out on to the street and put them on a rug and then we took turns to look through the options.  I’ve picked up two chic-lit and a Steven King from that.

Ages ago I saw ‘Good Omens’ advertised on Amazon but wasn’t sure I was looking for that kind of programme at the time.  It’s based on a book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and revolves around an Angel and a Demon who have been on Earth keeping an eye on things since the Garden of Eden.

One day the Demon gets told its time for Armageddon to start, he has to deliver a baby who will be the Prince of Darkness and start it all off when he comes of age.  However, he and the Angel quite like their life on Earth and don’t want things to change.  So they go about trying to stop the Prince becoming bad.

I read a lot of Terry Pratchett at University, and found it laugh out loud funny then, though have not read any of it since.  Neil Gaiman, I tried American Gods, his other Amazon TV show but lost it along the way.  (lets not also talk about how he has lost it along the way – um travelling in a Pandemic anyone…).  But this is just the right side of funny, dry and very well played by Michael Sheen as the Angel and David Tennant as the Demon.

In the weird times we live in at the moment there are a lot of books and TV I am rejecting as want something to distract me and lift the mood.  This is doing exactly that.  Its got touches of Python, some very stupid lines and set pieces which make you smile (last night they went to a Paintballing place and the Demon decided to change the guns to real ones).

Definitely a Good Omen to me of some good telly.

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