The holiday library

Phil: I’m on holiday at the moment in a self-catering apartment. It’s so nice here that this is the third time I’ve staying in the place, and all being well, not the last.

In the corner of the massive living room is a bookcase with a selection of paperbacks on the shelves. Last year, I started reading Moondust by Andrew Smith, but ran out of time to finish it before my departure.

As far as I am aware, there are no rules for the bookshelf, so I decided to take the book home with me and get to the end, before writing a review on here.

But, then I felt guilty. This is a terrific book, what if someone else wanted to read it?

You could argue it should go to a charity shop and continue on its travels. Many books have a life that starts in a “proper” bookshop and then continues through several hands before the covers fall off and they end up in recycling. To me the “who had this before?” question is part of the fun of buying second-hand books.

This time though, I felt that I really ought to bring the book back, and so it has sat in the reading pile for a year until I packed it in my suitcase and brought it “home”, coincidentally on the 50th anniversary of the moon landings it celebrates.

To make up for my transgression, I also added a copy of our books to the shelf. That’s not just me being nice, the dream is that some Hollywood A-lister will have the apartment next week, pick the copy up and shout, “Get me the authors, this is the greatest book I’ve ever read and I must option the story for a major film immediately!”

Well, you can dream can’t you.

Did I do the right thing though? What do you do when the day to go home arrives before the last page of the book?

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The grass isn’t always greener

Phil: Team NolanParker were chatting a few days ago, talking about work.

Like most people, we have the occasional “issue” with our jobs. I think it’s fair to say that no-one enjoys a job that is entirely trouble-free. Into every life, some rain must fall and when you get wet at work, there is some relief in getting things off your chest with a like-minded friend.

For example, you find yourself lunching in a pub on a sunny day. There is a fullsome gin menu and a large screen about to show the Wimbledon semi-finals. But, completely unreasonably, your boss will be under the impression that you should return to your desk instead of getting slowly blotto while watching sportsmen whacking a ball around and getting a suntan. Personally, I don’t like gin, but could see her point.

En-route to the pub I’ve been reading This is going to hurt by Adam Kay.

The book tells of his time as a Junior Doctor working in obstetrics and gynaecology. There are incredibly long hours, shift changes at a moments notice. Next to no home life, holidays interrupted, days off cancelled, bodily fluids spurting around the place, poor pay and a thousand other “issues”. All of which makes any complaints I have pale into insignificance. At many points, I wondered why he didn’t just chuck it in if someone in McDonalds was being paid better. 3/4 of the way through he explains that it’s the positive outcomes, the successes, the making a difference to someone’s life that keep people doctoring.

It is a cracking read, I’ve been racing through the book, picking it up at odd moments for a couple more pages – helped by the diary style which breaks the text up into short bites.

As Candice says, it’s easy to look at your current position and wish you were elsewhere (in this case, a pub with tennis) but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. To continue with the trite phrases, you can easily find yourself jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. All I know is I don’t fancy being a doctor. I might wield a scalpel occasionally, but the things I cut into don’t bleed, unless I get my own fingers through clumsiness.

One thing this book is good for though, contraception.

In stark contrast to a recent read which to make anyone feel broody, this one will have every woman pointing at her other half’s wedding tackle and saying, “You’re not bringing THAT thing anywhere near me again!”

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Nice work

Phil: When we go to literary events, I often feel that Candice and I aren’t really in the right place. The art establishment doesn’t really have a home for people who just want to write novels for readers on sunbeds.

Last year, we were given a copy of Nice Work by David Lodge and I decided it was time I got around to reading it.

The plot concerns university lecturer Robyn Penrose, who finds herself shadowing factory manager Vic Wilcox. They rub along, disagree and then have a brief fling. The plot is nicely summarised on Wikipedia.

My god, this book is pleased with itself. Witten in the third person, the text keeps showing how clever it is with little asides. To be honest, the print format put me off, and by the third chapter, it was heading for the charity pile. But, I persevered, in the world of Art, books are not there to be enjoyed, they are there to be good for you. A bit like broccoli.

By the end, I enjoyed it, but possibly not in the right way.

You see, I didn’t go to university and have a suspicion that many of the people there simply use further education as a way of avoiding the real world. Yes, there are many valuable courses and we can’t do without them, but I’ve met people who basically have never left school and boy can you tell.

Robyn Penrose is just such a person. She thinks that the most important thing in the world is obscure literary criticism. I’ve no issue with that, the problem I have is that she expects to be able to live in her ivory tower and have everyone else pay for it. Even as I write this, I know it sounds a bit Daily Mail, but when she visits Vic’s factory, it’s obvious that she doesn’t comprehend that those working in the hell-hole conditions are supporting her lovely way of life – just like the landed gentry expected the serfs to toil in the fields so they could lounge around doing nothing. At least they didn’t pretend they cared.

It might be that the author was satirizing this, Robyn and her partner do briefly discuss the idea, but I’m unconvinced. I think she is the hero, especially when we reach the deus ex machina ending with unexpected windfalls and bailing a recently redundant Vic out.

The point is, there is IMHO, nothing wrong with setting out just to entertain people. Life is rubbish enough without someone coming along and snootily laughing at your enjoyable choice of reading matter, and then expecting you to fork out for their luxury lifestyle.

Rant over.

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In search of Fillern Holm.

Phil: If you’ve read Kate vs the Navy, you’ll know that the action takes place on an island called Fillern Holm, which can be found in the Bristol Channel, not far from Weston-Super-Mare.

It is of course, completely fictitious. Loosely based on Cockatoo Island in the far more exotic Sydney harbour, we made it up as there isn’t really anywhere suitable to hide an old navy base in the UK, and if we can’t go to Australia, then neither can the characters in our books!

Anyway, I was down in Weston a few days ago and found myself staring out to sea, or at least where the sea should be. On the horizon was a lump, dimly visible through the mist.

Could this be Fillern Holm? Does it exist after all?

Sadly not, it’s actually Steep Holm, according to the map. An uninhabited lump of rock. It was fortified in the 1860s though, and these defences were updated in WWII including the building of a barracks. All this means that it could just be a suitable stand-in for Fillern Holm in any future film or TV adaptions.

Talking of settings for drama, perhaps there is another candidate at Weston. Just off the coast is Birnbeck Pier.

More dereliction, but this time with some buildings. No missing battleships though. Perhaps those will just have to stay in our imagination.

Buy Kate vs the Navy for only 99p from Amazon.

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Rain stops reading

Remilia Scarlet - Rain

Candice: Phil’s written about abandoning a book in a recent blog, and then finding one that touches a cord.

I’ve had a similar issue myself recently.

The last few months have been a rollercoaster with a new job and things outside work throwing a few spanners in the works.  I’ve struggled to concentrate on books or TV shows as I’ve had so much going on in my head.  Walking to walk today in another bought of torrential rain hasn’t helped with the vibe. I realise I need a piece of complete escapism.

So far I’ve started and given up on – One Enchanted Evening by Anton du Beke.  Too light and fluffy, I can’t remember the character names and I’m not in the period ‘Downton’ mood.  Saving that one for the sun lounger

The Librarian of Auschwitz about Dita Kraus – an incredibility important subject but far too sad for me at present.  When they starting talking about sending families to the gas chambers I just can’t read any more.

One of the books both Phil and I have enjoyed recently is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, recommended to us by Liv from Writing West Midlands, a very quirky story of a random political initiative to bring salmon to a Wadi in the Yemen and based on the author’s experiences in industry and government.

The title would put me off straight away, but the story just reminds me of when I worked for Birmingham City Council. A politician would decide that the idea put in front of them was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that everything need to be done to drive this idea forward, without actually thinking the whole thing through.   There is a human side to the story too, it’s not all about fishing.  It is the most bizarre book, written from lots of different viewpoints, but yet it works and is quite amusing.  Don’t take my word for it, give it a go.

Anyway, I think I have finally found my book for my mood.  It’s called The Temptation of Gracie and tells the story of a woman returning to Italy, 40 years after she left, to return to her true love.  I’m still only one third through the book but I’m enjoying the vision of the beautiful flower-filled fields of Tuscany and the swarthy Italian men.  There is young love in the present and in the past and stories of hot, steamy days.  It’s exactly what I need to take me away from the constant UK rain.

In few weeks I’ll be able to escape to my next holiday and perhaps some of the books I’ve given up on I’ll give a second chance, it’s easier to focus on something when you have a longer time to read it.  I do try and read everything I buy as its good to broaden your horizons and read things other than Crime Fiction and Chick-Lit, but also sometimes it’s just good to just disappear.

Hopefully, the rain will stop soon too…

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Recognising yourself in a book

Phil: Working through the huge piles of books passed on to me from La Nolan earlier this year, I’ve just read Wilde About the Girl by Louise Pentland. Not a book I would have picked up myself, but I really enjoyed it.

The plot concerns a year in the life of Robin Wilde – single mother, makeup artist and generally, pretty much together woman. She’s got a useful collection of friends and relatives. Even the ex-husband isn’t written as a monster or complete incompetent. There is a new bloke on the horizon, but he’s not the main plot strand in that annoying way many chick-lit books seem to manage.

Instead, the focus of Robin’s like is her daughter Lyla. Well, that and work. I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like this – the child is the apple of her mother’s eye, but not the only thing in her life. It’s almost like the author managed to write about real life!

Now, I don’t have kids, but I’ve seen friends lives change as they sprogs arrive on the scene. Pentland doesn’t turn the child into a mobile nightmare, but actually makes you feel that spending time with the youngster is fun. If you aren’t broody before opening the cover, you might be by the end.

One aspect that rang true for me was when a new man came in to Auntie Kath’s life. Kath is the rock Robin relies upon and Lyla loves her. When Colin turns up, even though he makes widowed Kath happy, Layla hates him for replacing her late husband. Eventually, they are reconciled but it reminded me of myself.

When I was very young, we lost my Grandad. Even though we didn’t live close, apparently he and I were very close. A few years later my gran took in a lodger for the company and a little income. He was (as I recall) about the same age as my grandad would have been and apparently, I behaved terribly towards him, presumably thinking he was replacing my grandad (he wasn’t, he was just a lodger unlike Colin in this book). Like Robin, my parents had to find a way to reconcile us, they did it and we were fine after that. I was so young I don’t remember not liking him, but I could see what Lyla was going through.

The book is broken up into several sections, each of many chapters, and they all seem to contain an “incident”. One is terrible, but you wouldn’t know this from the cover or blurb. There, we find the stakes ramped up – unnecessarily in my opinion. This book nips along a decent pace, the characters are all pleasant to know and not too cartoony in most cases (OK, some of the school mums maybe) and there is a bit of pathos too. Colin could just be a cypher, but on a trip to the Lake District, we see into his soul a little, but only a little.

I think this is the middle volume in a Trilogy. To be honest, I don’t feel the need to read the others as this is such a strong standalone story, would they spoil it for me?

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Right book, wrong time?

Phil: Why do we like a particular book?

I’m wondering because I’ve just abandoned Sheila O’Flanagan’s How will I know?

I didn’t even make it to the end of the first chapter. Something about the writing style jarred with me. There’s a lot of description of the main characters day, and to be honest I just got bored.

It must just be me though, as this is (according to the cover) and bestseller.

My thinking is that were I lying on a sun lounger I’d have stuck with it and probably if not enjoyed it, at least passed time pleasantly. As it is, I need to be grabbed by the story fast. There’s too much going on in my head to plough through a book which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

This happens all the time of course. If you want a book published, you have to be lucky. The right person has to read your pitch at the right time. If they want vampire books, it’s no good pitching historical romantic fiction. But if they want the new Price and Prejudice, the best book about a blood-sucker in the world won’t get anywhere.

OK, putting your book out everywhere increases the chance of a hit, but there’s still luck involved – which I say to make everyone feel better. How do we know the slush pile that Harry Potter came out of didn’t have another boy wizard further down? And wouldn’t that be annoying?

And imagine the editor reading How will I know? had been in the same frame of mind I am at the moment. They would have been shouting, “Stop describing the contents of your kitchen cupboard!” instead of “Fire up the printing presses, we’ve got a hit on our hands!”

Not every book suits every taste every time. That’s what we keep telling ourselves. That and people who don’t like our books are idiots…

 

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