Desperately Seeking Summer

Image result for uk summer pictures royalty free

Candice: I’m reading a book at the moment called ‘Desperately Seeking Summer’. I haven’t finished it yet so the review will come in another blog but I have to say it encapsulates the summer we have had in the UK this year. I’m still waiting for it to come.

I am a sunshine loving girl. Yes I know it can do bad things to your skin if you are in it too much but I wear my factor 30. However, it can also do lots of good things, increase your Vitamin D levels but generally make you feel happy. I’m never happier when I am out in the sunshine, shorts and tshirt on, doing the garden or going for a walk. My particular favourite is eating outside, particularly for dinner. I love to go on holiday and have a meal outside, preferably over looking the sea, not having to wear a jacket or cardi over my outfit. If there is shellfish on the menu, even better.

But no, this year has been pretty awful. We had one week of scorching heat in July and then its been very up and down. I got my shorts out all week in Devon, but with a fleece on. In that case I was on holiday and determined to show I was by getting my legs out (but not the upper body, still too cold).

For most of August I have been wondering where the sun has gone as we have had wall to wall cloud. A few weeks ago someone at my gym class said there was going to be a heat wave in early September and I went ‘yeah’ but now they are saying rain for most of the month.

Of course without Covid I would have already had one foreign holiday and have another in the pipeline but now things are all up in the air. I may have to dream and just put the heating on instead. I wouldn’t mind, its just the sun I miss as much as the heat.

This week adds an extra factor in the fact my friend and I optimistically planned a camping trip before the kids go back to school. I haven’t been in eight years, so I have all the kit but have forgotten how much you need and all the palava attached. Its all laid out in my garage as we speak.

So fingers crossed for a sudden heatwave end of this week. If nothing else I have my head torch and I’ll be doing some night time reading, mainly finishing of this book where I can disappear into a world of hot summers on a Greek island even if I can’t be there.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

When did a holiday become a “staycation”?

Poppitt Sands

Grumpy Phil: I keep hearing that everyone is going on a “staycation” this year, because they can’t get abroad.

Somehow, staycation has come to mean taking your holiday in the UK. I’m not sure how this happened, but I want it to stop NOW.

When I was a kid, we went on holiday every year. For several years this was to my grandparents in Scotland. Later, there was camping in Kent. All of these were holidays.

I didn’t get abroad until I was 12 and that was a week-long school trip to France. La Nolan’s daughter has been out of this country more often than I have, and she’s less than a tenth of my age.

Calling holidays in the UK staycations suggests they are somehow worth less than a trip abroad. They aren’t. Given the choice of sitting in a small British town eating cake or “larging it” in Ibiza, I know what I’d be picking. Yes, I am boring, but it’s my b****y holiday so I can do what I like.

To me, a holiday is anywhere away from home. Away from the mental list of jobs we really should be doing. A break from the norm. If you want to qualify it, for the trip to be a holiday, you have to spent at least one night away.

A staycation is taking time off and staying at home. Your house. Where you live most of the time.

Look at it another way, in normal times, many thousands of people from other countries visit the UK. I know, they all descend on Stratford and Warwick. They are on holiday. If I decide to visit one of Britians’ many tourist destinations such as the Lake District, then I’m on holiday just like someone from Japan.

So, let’s get the words right. Don’t let some over-paid newspaper columnist, bitter that their month in a terribly nice villa in somewhere fashionable, has been cancelled, define the language. A holiday is a holiday even if it means sitting on  damp beach wearing a cagoule. Just enjoy it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Jay Blades – Making It

Image result for jay blades making it

Candice: For those of you who don’t know, Jay Blades is the guy with the flat cap who is the main presenter on the BBC show ‘The Repair Shop’. Affable and friendly he coordinates between the people who want their items fixed and the makers.

I do like the odd autobiography but don’t read that many, I’m more into escapism these days but Phil sent me this book to read a few weeks ago. He had really liked it and raved about it so I thought I’d give it a go.

Jay has a very varied life, growing up on a rough estate in London with a revolving door of men playing Dad in his life when his biological father leaves the scene early. He also struggles with racism, and undiagnosed dyslexia, leading him to talk with his fists rather than his mouth for many years. This escalates to the point he has to leave the area. Unfortunately for the next few years his life follows a similar pattern, he settles into area but things start to go a bit awry and then he has to leave because he falls out with the local gang. He will admit that he brings a lot of this on himself as he does have an eye for the ladies and ends up getting on the wrong side of people due to messing women about.

Along the way he does start to find he has a knack for helping troubled people and starts initially volunteering and then working for a homeless charity. Again his mouth gets in the way when the management changes and he tells them what he thinks of their new plan, and has to leave.

Finally after many years and nearly 40 he finds the woman he gels with and they set up their own charity supporting troubled children through remaking old furniture. And this is where the ‘Repair Shop’ Jay appears. He says he gets a lot of comments on social media about the fact he doesn’t make anything, but that is where his true rehabilitation started, in revitalising old furniture. But a chance encounter gives him the opportunity to try presenting and he is a natural in front of the screen, and suddenly a new career beckons.

Present day, and we all know him as the ‘Father’ figure in the show, the one to give someone a hug when tears appear. To be honest, reading this book I have mixed feelings about him as a person. Obviously he has worked hard and fought his way up from a tough background. And he has done a lot of good for those who have struggled like him. But along the way he has left two children and multiple partners to pursue what he wants. My definite impression of him from the book was Jay comes first.

An interesting read, especially if you have no experience of that kind of upbringing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Getting arty in the park

Phil: Team NolanParker are proper culture vultures when we want to be.

Artinpark_250Point us at a literary festival and we are there. Anything to spend a bit of time with other writers, or people who just love books.

And if you love books, can you spurn other art forms? Of course not.

Which is why we ignored the threatening rain clouds and headed along to Art in the Park, Leamington Spa’s premier arts festival. Not just La Nolan and me, but her 7 1/2 year old protegee too. A youngster who like nothing better than getting crafty making things.

First up, there was dancing. Not for me of course, I didn’t want to get my tweed jacket sweaty, and anyway, it’s hardly suitable for Streetdance! No, the dynamic duo found themselves taking part in a very vigorous workshop learning some bangin’ choreography. Good job they had stoked up on drinks and a double-chocolate muffin beforehand, although that last bit was the small ones idea!

After all their exertions, a quiet stroll was in order to the riverside looking at some of the art on sale. After a Covid-enforced break last year, the festival was back, bigger than ever and having filled the main park, spilled over to an new field with yet more stalls, food and music. For a free event, there was a terrific amount to enjoy.

Artinpark2_250

This time, it was a henna tattoo workshop while I went for wander. It’s amazing who you bump in to at these sort of events – I was browsing a decorative blacksmith stall and found that the other browser was an old boss. Well, I’ve always fancied having a go at metal bashing and it seems that we might both be signing up for a taster course!

Lunch was a mix of halloumi fries (new to me, and delicious), fish tacos and an excellent hotdog for the small member of the team. Well, you can’t do boring at this sort of event can you?

After that, more strolling and time to stock up on unusual cards, including Christmas ones. You never know when you need a nice card, and there’s nothing like most of these in the shops.

Best of all, you get to meet artists. People who create things. While gawping at a painting of sculpture, the person who made it is happy to chat. For me, this personal connection really matters. Owning a unique object that has been crafted by another human being is a pleasure.

Books are also crafted by people. It’s why I feel guilty when I abandon one – I know what I’m holding is the result of many, many hours of effort and imagination. Someone cares about those words, which is why it’s such a shame when I can’t appreciate them fully. But then, like art, you can’t love, or even properly appreciate, everything.

As we found in the park though, art comes in so many varieties and flavours, there will be something you love, it just takes a bit of looking.

Artinpark3_250

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

I can see the sea!

View from Puffin Cottage, Bucks Mills, Bideford

Candice: I’ve always said my spiritual home is by the sea. I feel the pull of the coast if I don’t visit it for a long period of time. The sea calms me and I can spend hours just looking out over the horizon. I think I find that a lot around water as even lying by a pool on holiday I find calming.

There has been a lot of change and upheaval in my life over the last couple of months. I have gone from a family of three to two. It has taken me along time to get my head round this idea and this holiday has really helped me see the wood for the trees.

It also hasn’t helped my writing brain as I just haven’t been able to think clearly. A week at the coast and for the first time in ages inspiration struck. Phil and I had had a brain storm a week or so before around what was missing from Book 3 and I had taken it upon myself to write the ending. We knew approximately where it needed to go, but just hadn’t fleshed out that big finish. In fact the first step of our meeting the other week was to realise that we needed a big finish.

So I managed to squeeze in two writing sessions and get off 2000 words. I would have done more but an exuberant seven year old needed my attention, but to be honest most nights I was shattered, all that fresh air and boogie boarding tired me out. She and I had a ball, we did loads of things I wouldn’t have done if we’d flown abroad on holiday, a UK holiday is just different. One of those things was sheltering under a non-waterproof beach tent for 20 mins while it threw it down, but hey that’s just UK holidays! And the other main one was swimming in the sea, something I haven’t done in the UK for years, buying a wet suit really helped. I not sure who enjoyed the boogie boarding more, me or her!!

Anyway, I have broken the back of the big finish. I now need to knuckle down and write the next bit. I remember now why we have only got to about 60k words. The finish can take up 10k all on its own. In 2000 I’ve only opened the door to where we are going, and at the moment I’m not even sure where that is, that is the joy of writing, I just know where it needs to end up.

Happy holidays and writing!

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

Don’t let me down Carol

Img_5414Phil: I like Carol Kirkwood. She’s the nice weatherlady on BBC Breakfast. Always seems cheery, even when giving us bad news. So, when I find she’s written a novel, and it’s in the Parker reading pile, I am worried.

Let’s be honest, I’ve not had the greatest success with celebrity novels. They tend (IMHO) to suffer from insufficient editing. Plotlines that get the chop in anything written by what Jennifer Lopez would term “a civilian” make it to the page because the publisher knows only the name on the cover matters.

My worries aren’t eased by reading a Radio Times interview where Carol admits “I didn’t ever think I would be able to write a novel is the honest truth,” she says. “I was approached about writing a book by a publishing agent. I met with him and he said, ‘Would you like to do it? Do you think you can do it?’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know because I’ve never tried.’” – basically, a publisher spotted the chance to make some money by slapping the name of someone popular on the cover. Carol had no burning desire to write, but by dint of being famous was given a publishing deal anyway.

Yes I am jealous.

So, the book – it’s rubbish isn’t it?

No. It’s not. Sorry to disappoint you dear reader.

The plot revolves around actress Shauna Jackson. Early in her life, she enjoyed a magical visit to Greece, complete with some romance with the heir to a multinational shipping empire who for no reason I assumed looked like a young George Michael. Later, she has joined the Hollywood A-List, gets cheated on by her husband who promptly dies, and eventually heads back to Greece.

This is not inciteful. It’s not “proper” literature. What it is, is something to read on the sunlonger. And that job it does very well indeed.

As you bake in the sun, your brain won’t be too challenged, even the big twist is pretty easy to spot as it hoves into view. This doesn’t matter. We like Shauna. We like everyone in fact. Even the cheating husband has a good side – Carol doesn’t really do nasty. There are endless chick-lit style product mentions, most of which were fashion brands and lost on me, but it doesn’t matter.

It’s easy to be snobbish about books like this, but if you don’t like them, don’t read them. The story flows well enough and is enjoyable. If your reading tastes requires your brain to hurt after a few pages, then don’t buy books by famous people. And certainly not the nice lady who does the weather.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Tea, cake and plotting

Teaandcake

Phil: Here’s a photo we haven’t shown you for a while – the essentials of a NolanParker planning session.

Sat in the sunshine, we discussed Book 3, and how we will manage to finish it. Discussions that were powered by tea and cookies produced by the Nolan’s fair hand. She is so multi-talented!

After a long break, the first job was to read everything and work out where we are. The good news is that the book is a lot further on than I remember it. And, more importantly, it’s pretty good. Loads of funny stuff balanced with some serious plot lines too.

Pondering on how we take things forward, we’ve decided to work on the endings – ‘dings because there are two strands to this novel and we need to wrap them both up. One in particular required much chat at at least 3 cookies each to plan out – but that’s the bit we really enjoy and something I’ve missed while we have been away from writing book stuff.

Now the hard work starts – turning those ideas into words on a page. Watch this space.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Summer on a Sunny Island – Sue Moorcroft

Summer on a Sunny Island: The uplifting new summer read from the Sunday Times bestseller, guaranteed to make you smile! by [Sue Moorcroft]

Candice: I have to admit I have been rubbish at writing blog posts recently. I have a lot on my mind and it means I get to the end of Wednesday and go – oh bum I’ve forgotten to write my blog post! Phil is very good at not reminding me(telling me off) about it.

But in the middle of all of this I have been reading. Its a great escape from anything that is going on around me.

As part of my trips to the Library I have been exploring other books that I might not have found in the supermarket, and this was one in the ‘quick reads’. Summer on a Sunny Island caught my eye as it was all about holidays – something that I am missing at the moment.

The premise is around Rosa, who splits from her long term boyfriend and decamps to Malta for the summer. She is lucky enough that her mom, a professional chef, grew up there and they can spend the summer crafting her new cookery book while Rosa decides what to do next.

Living upstairs from Rosa and her Mom is Zach, hard working but with a background of getting in trouble, leaving him estranged from his family, particularly his disapproving dad.

With a number of stories crossing over within the book its runs along nicely.

Zach takes a local boy who is getting into trouble under his wing, causing drama.

Dory, Rosa’s mom falls in love, and this causes issues with her ex-husband.

Rosa’s ex-boyfriend causes Rosa all kind of turmoil as his messes her about over their split. This impacts on her trying to decide what she really wants to do with her life.

Zach’s family come back together, and drama ensues with his sisters and his parents.

But the underlying story is that of Zach and Rosa. Its the classic ‘will they wont they’ as they go on not dates, fall out, get confused messages but eventually fall in love. But its nicely done. All the other story lines make for an interesting read and the background of sunny Malta add to the charm.

I enjoyed the thoughts of relaxing a sunlounger or swimming in the sea, even though it will be awhile until I get to do that. So you want a break from home working this is a perfect light read.

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

Back in the writing groove

Img_4624

Phil: It’s been too long. Life has come between us and the writing we love. But that has to change. We need to complete Book 3

Step 1: Remember where we are. We can sort of recall the story, but really, it’s time to re-read everything.

Step 2: Reading on screen is OK, but reading from the page is a lot easier. Eating several ink cartridges and much paper in a domestic printer doesn’t appeal, and we’re working from home so there isn’t an office printer to try to slide many, many page through.

A commercial print shop is another option, but in the past, it’s been an expensive thing to do.

So, to Lulu.com. An hour of messing around rough-formatting the manuscript file, creating a quick cover, and the book is in their print queue. A week later, two copies are in my hands. I’ve allowed larger than normally margins for scribbling, so the result is 2cm thick (I forgot to add page numbers, sorry).

All this for £7 a copy. It feels like a real book. It looks like a real book. Let’s hope it inspires us to finish the project!

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Phil

Miss Benson’s Beetles

Phil: Does anyone else look a book up on Amazon and immediately head for the 1 star reviews? I bet I’m not alone in doing this, we all like to see a bit of moaning.

Anyway, for this book, they tell us a lot more about the reviewers than the book itself.

Not yet read books so can’t comment” – well then DON’T!

Packaging ok but book, bought as a gift, was damaged inside and the dust cover was torn. ” – Not really telling us much about the book is it?

This was a good book until it wasn’t. Billed as a friendship saga but ends in heartbreak.” – SPOILER ALERT! Life, even fictional life, isn’t all sunshine and roses.

Anyway, none of that tells us much about Rachel Joyce’s latest story.

It is 1950. In a devastating moment of clarity, Margery Benson abandons her dead-end job and advertises for an assistant to accompany her on an expedition. She is going to travel to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist.
Enid Pretty, in her unlikely pink travel suit, is not the companion Margery had in mind. And yet together they will be drawn into an adventure that will exceed every expectation. They will risk everything, break all the rules, and at the top of a red mountain, discover their best selves.

We are in a very different world to today. Margery is a traditional spinster, with all this suggests. Her life hasn’t been easy. Often overshadowed by a terrible tragedy that takes place right at the start of the novel, she has a lifelong passion for exotic beetles, and suddenly sets out to travel around the world in order to discover a specimen rumoured, but not proven to exist. This is a drab world of rationing and slow recovery from conflict. Somewhere were women got married, had children and did what they were told.

Lone women travelling would be very unusual, so she engages the services of an assistant, who initially turns out to be hopelessly unsuited to the job. Eventually though (this is a story after all) they come to understand and support each other.

In many ways, this is a character study of women in the era. As well as our two heroes, there are ambassadors wives on a remote island who have nothing to do other than find ways to stem their boredom. They live a round of social events and craft sessions, always aware that they were very much second-class citizens – and appendage of their husbands. Along come two apparently independent women and this causes some consternation.

If I’m being honest, while I enjoyed the book, you need to suspend your disbelief and also ignore the extraneous POW character who seems to serve no purpose, even when he comes into his own at the end. I’d have simply edited him out entirely, but it’s not my book.

It’s also worth remembering that the 1950s didn’t offer the same level of information to anyone, especially women. Foreign travel was rare and exotic so ending up in the sort of place beetles are found, was a leap in the dark. Travel was hard, but then the normal world wasn’t short of discomfort either. In many ways, Margery escapes a stifling existence in her own, unconventional way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing