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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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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Tried a good movie recently?

Le Mans '66

Candice: Though I love a good book, I do also enjoy a trip to the movies.  I find sitting in a dark cinema, surrounded by noise and a big screen helps me escape into another world the way books do.

Obviously at the moment cinema trips are a no-no, however, I have managed to watch a few good films via my Amazon account.

Having so much home time on our hands means that to differentiate between the week and the weekend we’ve taken to ordering a takeaway and sitting down to a film after the little one goes to bed.  Access to Amazon is like going to Blockbuster (for those of you who remember renting films) – it means you can pick from some good titles for not a lot of money and then relax with a film and a beer.

Over the last few weeks, I have watched ‘Hustlers’, the Jennifer Lopez film about a group of strippers who resorted to more creative ways to make money when the bottom dropped out of the market after the crash in 2008.  It was a good film, though I found it hard to work out why these girls would work together, as it is normally more dog eat dog with women.  And the outfits, or lack of them, were eye-opening!

Then there was ‘Blinded by the Light’, a great British film about an Asian family trying to integrate (or not in some cases) in Luton in the 80s.  Good tunes, flashbacks on clothing and hairstyles and comedy about British and Muslim cultures clashing.  Enjoyed that one.

Last weekend we bought ‘Le Mans 66’.  Its subtitle is ‘Ford vs Ferrari’ and it tells the tale of Ford’s decision to get into racing and knock Ferrari off its winning perch.  Why did they want to do that?  Well because someone in marketing told them their cars weren’t sexy enough.

I am a bit of a car buff (I used to drive an Alfa) so this wasn’t just a pick by the other half.  And I have to say, watch this film.  It’s two and a half hours long so we split it over two nights and we were hooked.  The race scenes pulled you in and you just wanted to know what happened.  There was an extra piece in Christian Bale’s character, a feisty mechanic turned driver who spoke as he saw, made even more funny as he was from Birmingham and still had the accent.

There was pace, tension, frustration, relationships and heartbreak, and some great car shots too.  I’m even more of a fan as my ‘midlife crisis’ car is a ’66 Mustang Convertible, the car that they use for the base of the race car.

Yep, that cheered up my lock in weekend.  Wonder what we can find for next week?

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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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Relaxing reads for taxing times

Phil: Here’s a handy hint. Don’t publish a blog post about how you are starting to feel more comfortable with the current situation. It’s a prelude to your metal state heading downhill fast for several days. Just shut up and read some books. To help, here are the two most recent that I’ve finished in my regular post-lunch tea and reading sessions.

Warning: Contains Spoilers. Or at least spoilers if you’ve never read any chick-lit before and can’t spot the bleedin’ obvious plot lines.

The Hidden Cottage by Erica James

Mia Channing appears to have an enviable life: a beautiful home, a happy marriage, a job she enjoys and three grown-up children to whom she’s devoted. But appearances can be deceptive…

When the family gathers for her son’s thirtieth birthday, he brings with him his latest girlfriend, who, to their surprise, has a nine-year-old daughter. Then, before the birthday cake has even been cut, Mia’s youngest daughter Daisy has seized the opportunity to drop a bombshell. It’s an evening that marks a turning point in all their lives, when old resentments and regrets surface and the carefully ordered world Mia has created begins to unravel.

You’d think from the blurb that this is all about Mia, but the main character is Owen Fletcher who buys a cottage in Little Pelham. The cottage was part of his childhood when he lived for a while in the village. He’s one of those annoying people in novels with bucket loads of cash but no obvious way of earning it, but we let that pass because he’s not a dick. I did have a “what does he DO all day?” moment, but in the current situation, adults not actually doing much to fill the hours doesn’t seem so odd.

Anyway, this is quite involved with Mia’s three children and most importantly, overly controlling husband, all walking on eggshells with each other, finding their way in the world, loving and losing etc. The actual main romance isn’t prominent in the book. It’s there, but takes up very little of the story compared to the rest of the characters, and is all the better for it.

I’d say that this is the thinking readers chick-lit with some well worked parallel storylines, especially Mia’s marriage and Owen’s childhood. There are a few shocks along the way too. Maybe the supporting characters in the village are a bit cartoonish, but the background hangs together well enough not to be obtrusive.

I read this one in small chunks, but it’s one of those books I’d make little bits of time during the day to grab another chapter of.

A Summer Scandal by Kat French

When Violet moves to Swallow Beach, she inherits a small Victorian pier with an empty arcade perched on the end of it, and falls in love immediately. She wants nothing more than to rejuvenate it and make it grand again – but how?

When she meets hunky Calvin, inspiration strikes. What if she turned the arcade into an adult-themed arcade full of artisan shops?

Not everyone in the town is happy with the idea, but Violet loves her arcade and business begins to boom. But as tensions worsen and the heat between her and Calvin begins to grow, life at Swallow Beach becomes tricky. Is it worth staying to ride out the storm? And can Violet find her own happy ending before the swallows fly south for the winter?

Violet inherits a pier and apartment in the childhood town her mother refuses to return to. There are secrets from her grandmother who died in mysterious circumstances. And her neighbour is hunky Calvin Dearheart.

Reader, she shags him.

She also turns the pier into a series of workshops for those making things for the adult entertainment industry. Maybe I’ve lived a sheltered life, but a couple of them were “That’s really a thing?” moments. You don’t want to search for them on-line either on a work computer.

I wasn’t wild about this, the idea that you’d turn the centrepiece of a pier into a series of workspaces where the most public-friendly thing on offer would be a leather whip seemed odd. Artisan workshops would work, but I suspect that the Great British Public aren’t ready for X-rated goods while strolling along the seaside.

To be honest, the characters are all ridiculous, but it’s all played straight and so the book gets away with it. There are more historical parallels, outrageous coincidences and the ending is a bit weird, but overall, it’s everything the cover suggests. Light fun with a happy ending. Just like that that the pier’s customers are expecting.

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Lockdown Buzzword Bingo

index

Candice: So we are pretty much all going through it at the moment – my feed is full of people telling me how exciting their day is, what outfit they are wearing, “look at how much fun I am having on video calls.”  Or sharing information, true or otherwise. about what is going on. There was even a programme on TV last night about 24hrs in Lockdown, um do you think we really need to know about that, I know there is the lack of stuff to show at the moment but really!

So I’ve done a ‘Buzzword Bingo’ list.  You know the ones, they get used for meetings to add humour and you tick off when a certain project-centric or verbose word is used.  It adds to the long day if you are at a particularly boring conference.

Tick if you have done the following:

  1. Worn the same clothes more than two days in a row (I don’t mean undies!)
  2. Not put your jewellery on
  3. Not worn any makeup
  4. Become so attached to your phone and checking on the outside world its become an obsession
  5. Walking twice as much as you were before this (for those of you allowed to go out for exercise)
  6. Taken part in Joe Wicks’ exercise class
  7. Discovered Zoom
  8. Spent a whole Zoom call trying to teach an elder family member how to make it work
  9. Found things in your house you thought you had lost
  10. Ordered random things online – crepe paper anyone?
  11. Felt like you are running the dishwasher/washing up twice as much as usual
  12. Constantly washing clothes
  13. Forgotten what day it is
  14. Had your child/partner walk in on a video call
  15. Let ‘things’ grow out (that’s ladies and men)

For the outfit and style things, I’ve gone through the wear the same and now trying to mix it up.  I have done my annual summer/winter swap which has added a whole new level of fun to dressing (‘I’d forgotten all about this top’).  Also re makeup, as I’m starting to look a little haggard and need that bronzer to zip me up, even if it’s only for a walk around the block.

Even the phone I’m looking at less – I check the BBC once a day for an update on numbers, Boris’s health and any sight of an end to this but Facebook has become BORING.

Walking, bike riding – I used to do a lot but in these few weeks my daughter has gone from a reluctant rider to a proficient one so we go for a bike ride every day.  The bonus of car free roads means she can get used to it without us worrying too much about her wobbling.  We’ve found we can get quite far in our allocated slot.  And yes we’ve done Joe but more for me than her.

Ah Zoom, yes fun to start but I spend most of the day on the phone so the last thing I want to do is speak to people at night too.  I did get the parent’s version to work, FINALLY.

Our house has become craft central as my little maker loves craft.  Paint is probably the thing in short supply now.  We’ve found some of her toys we lost by spending time sorting out stuff to make things with, and also made a lot of things with crepe paper!

It’s all blurring into one, and I do struggle each day to actually remember who I am and what I am supposed to be doing.  There is a pad next to my desk that I have to write it all down else, with the constant distraction of childcare, I forget what I was saying and doing.  Only my watch really helps me remember what day it is.  What I can’t believe is we are on week three.  When this started it felt like someone had chopped my legs off, but now it almost feels normal.  I know I am not going to enjoy getting back into the ‘chuck child at school and drive to work’ routine.  And I’m also going to remember that you don’t have to throw money at things to have fun, there are boxes in our house yet to be opened and games we still haven’t played, thank god for the sunshine and a back garden to play in.

Reading and Writing – well this hasn’t turned into the supper productive period because I’m still working but I’m definitely using books to help distance myself from what’s going on and writing, well that will come when it does.

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Finding my funny bone

Phil: It’s very strange at the moment isn’t it?

Like most people, my mood has been very up and down recently. Every so often a wave of “the fear” comes over me and I’m pretty much useless.

(I will be ignoring any comments Nolan)

I’m worried about people I know becoming ill, or even worse. I worry that I might get ill. I worry about my job. I worry about the future – will there be any sort of economy left after all this? I worry how long it will be before things get back to something approaching normality. I worry that they might not.

Add into this worries about the day to day essentials of life such as buying milk and teabags and it’s not surprising that I’ve been struggling to find the enthusiasm to write anything.

Humans are adaptable though. The longer a situation persists, the more we find ways to work with it and make the best of things.

Panic buying in shops for example. The supermarkets have started to adapt. Shorter hours, desperately recruiting more staff to stack the shelves and deliver goods have removed the “all the shops are empty” story that most of the media have been running with. Heck, I even bought a pack of the rare toilet roll a couple of days ago, and I could have done the same yesterday.

(Yes, I know this makes me an ace hunter-gatherer and all the women looking at this are wondering if they should ignore my gormless photo at the top of this blog, instead forming an orderly queue…)

All being well, we’ll one day look back on these times with nostalgia and remember what we were doing during the great bog roll drought of 2020. I’m sure some rose-tinted spectacles will be donned by some.

However, I’m now finding it easier to write. I still worry, but perhaps not in such a paralysing way. Not so often anyway. The optimist in me looks for the promising news stories the media do their level best to hide in the scaremongering. I’m starting to see some chance to get back to writing stuff in the book, and that stuff being funny.

Fingers are crossed, but legs don’t need to be anymore.

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Science fiction?

Candice: ‘The camera pans an empty street, the roads are clear, a piece of litter rolls in the wind.  From a distance, the noise of an Ambulance siren can be heard.  A lone runner crosses the screen, bright in a day-glow orange top.  She pounds the streets, head phones on, fiercely concentrating on putting one foot in front of another. Suddenly a dog walker appears in her path, they look at each other as the pavement is only wide enough for them in usual circumstances.  She veers to the right, crossing the grass and on to the road to get away from her foe.  The walker is it out of her way and now it is back to car-free silence.’

For the last week I have been watching our world change in a way that none of us would have ever have thought of, even in the last month.

I was due to be going away in the first week of Easter.  I keep having flashing backs of a conversation with friends in January about booking a trip to the south coast, and then next thing I knew they were coming on our trip too.  Yet four weeks ago I was telling my daughter how much I was looking forward to a week away, she would get to play with her friends, us ladies had booked a spa treatment day.

And now I feel like I am living in a science fiction novel, or its a dream and someone is going to wake me up tomorrow.  What I have written above is not fiction, its fact.  We no longer have to imagine the life portrayed in these sci-fi pieces, it’s happening to us all.  And that is another thing I can not comprehend, it’s not just the UK it’s the world.  We are all in lockdown and we are all experiencing this.

There will be many novels, plays, films and history books written about this event.  And at some point in the future we will all say “Do you remember when it hit, what we did” but for now I think we are shell shocked.

I for one, am trying to record it all, because, like the birth of a child or your wedding day, you think you will remember it but you won’t.  Having my daughter at home means we are creating a daily diary of events so that I and she can look back and remember what it was like.  She doesn’t really understand what is happening.  Tonight she wanted to know if we can go to the shops tomorrow and I had to say no.  I’ve promised new toys instead as I don’t see them as an indulgence but a necessity.  She asked when we could go to the shops and I said hopefully four weeks but to her, that is ages (and to me too, to be honest).

With my writing hat on I’m already wondering if this will ever become part of one of our books.  The BBC are looking for scripts about it, perhaps Phil and I can come up with one?

For those who are locked in, now is the time to write about your fears and also your plans.  Keep positive and we’ll all have a big party when this is over.

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