Kate vs the Navy – Chapter One

“Dave!”

Kate Smith squealed in surprise and nearly fell over the chair in her four-inch Louboutins.

Dave. How could Dave be working here? Didn’t Gareth remember what happened at Christmas? Oh my God, this was going to be a disaster!

In the world of control-freak Kate, surprises were not permitted.

This was (almost) her company. Gareth might be her business partner but only in a strictly silent sense – if he knew what was good for him.

Dave Thomas was a nearly forgotten university flame who’d just happened to come back into her life during a project last year. After snogging Kate’s rather drunken face off at the closing-down Christmas party he’d scuttled off to his estranged wife in the States. He was certainly not supposed to be back in her office, let alone being announced as a partner in the firm.

Tracey Dunn-Jones, office tart and general nosy parker, sniggered in the corner. She’d worked out what Gareth had been up to by sneakily checking his diary when he’d mentioned a solo trip and meeting in London. Who did they know who was based in London? Only the disgraced aide of an MP who’d recently lost his job over the closure of a certain vegetable research station. Putting two and two together made a potentially very exciting five. Time to sit back and watch sparks fly, she thought.

On the other side of the room, IT nerd Kelvin was flummoxed by the whole situation. He remembered this Dave guy from their last job and considered him far too cool. He’d preferred the company of the researchers with their tractor-emblazoned jumpers to this cut-price James Bond clad in designer clobber. There had been some hoo-ha at the Christmas party apparently, but he’d been too busy with the tech guys, checking out the latest gadget, to work out what all the fuss had been about. To be honest, the moment people had started flashing their arses he’d ducked out for some fresh air.

The scene seemed to roll out in slow motion.

Dave had walked in to the room all smiles and was about to open his mouth when the shriek came from the side of the office. From the corner of his eye, he saw Kate – looking rather fetching in a pencil skirt and pleasantly form-fitting blouse – stumble and then right herself. As he turned to face her, she lost her footing again.

Kate’s favourite designer footwear wasn’t designed for such reactions. Putting all the pressure on one shoe had caused the heel to snap off, and she was suddenly falling backwards towards a desk. Kelvin, standing behind her, was slow to react and she’d hit the edge of the furniture before he could catch her. Her head hit the desk with a resounding thud, causing her to spin sideways and hit the floor with a crunch. There was a resounding oh! from the rest of the team as they ran over to see how she was.

Gareth Fothrington-Thomas, the fifty-something owner of KOD who was more renowned for his contacts than his business nous, might have the words “Managing Director” on his card but right now he could neither manage nor direct, just stand watch things unfold. A thought flashed across his mind – if only his wife was here. As an animal expert she’d done mouth to mouth on cows; he wasn’t even sure where the first aid kit was.

As everyone crowded round a stunned Kate, she just lay there looking up at them. Although her head hurt more than when she’d had too many cocktails and ended up in the ice bar in Spain, she was OK.

Back off everyone,” she said in strident tones that could be heard across the office. “I’m absolutely fine.” She began to stand, pushing helpfully offered hands out of the way. Dave had joined the throng and was trying to get past the gapers to help. However, as Kate began to rise he spotted something through the crowd. Blood was trickling down the side of her face from a cut on the side of her head.

As everyone backed off – Kate was not a woman to argue with – she heard a few murmurs about her bleeding head. She touched her crown and her fingers came back red. Oh bum, she thought, that’s really going to ruin my Dior base.

Thump!

The crowd turned round to find what had sounded like a sack of potatoes hitting the floor. They looked at each other trying to work out where the noise had come from. A pair of Hugo Boss brogues could be seen peeping out from behind one of the desks. Kate leant over the desk to see what was going on, and found Dave flat on the floor, pale as a sheet and out for the count.

Oh God!” she groaned. “What are you doing down there, Dave?”

*

KOD Associates, business change consultants, occupied the top floor of an office block in a bland part of Solihull town centre. The name meant ‘Kiss of Death’ and was a private joke. Kate had tried and failed to get her post-university career off the ground for a while and then, always a self-starter, she’d teamed up with Gareth, an old work colleague who had some contacts and money, to bring her ideas to life. Sensing an opportunity provided by the downturn in the economy, they had set themselves up as the go-to company for those who wanted to slim down a business. Their breakthrough job had been managing the spectacular closure of a government-run quango, the Horticultural Investigation Agency (HIA for short), after the last general election.

It had been a memorable job in many ways. Not just because of rioting staff, radioactive potato disease and an MP more concerned with climbing the greasy pole of power than telling anyone the truth, but because of the damage inflicted on Kate’s wardrobe. The rough and tumble of their countryside activities had not been kind to her raft of designer skirts and high heels, and the mental and financial scars were still healing.

And then there was Dave Thomas, aide to the MP who had commissioned the work.

Kate had thought she’d traded all that hormone rubbish for a cool, calm business mind. Suddenly, the one who’d got away years before was back on the scene and her body discovered a supply of oestrogen.

Working on the quango closure had brought media attention that had continued over the last few months. Kate and Gareth were regularly asked for interviews but, annoyingly for Kate, hers seemed to centre on the contents of her wardrobe and being a woman in a man’s world. Gareth was the one who was asked about the company, even though he was ill-equipped to answer questions with anything other than “I rely on Kate to do all the thinking.” She was still pondering whether or not to accept the invite to Loose Women but on balance thought there were some loose ends she might prefer to tie up before being stuck in a television studio with a bunch of hormonal C-list celebrities.

However, with the hubbub of the HIA debacle dying down, KOD needed to find something else to get their teeth into and replenish the dwindling coffers: having expanded rapidly off the back of that job, they had higher rent and more staff to pay.

*

The crowd had reassembled. Dave was still out cold and Kate was trying not to drip on him. Why wouldn’t her stupid cut stop bleeding?

Come back for Chapter Two next week

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Timetable for launch

Phil: We have a plan. After a lunch that was so serious we swapped cake for sponge pudding and custard (a move the BREXIT negotiators would be wise to copy), a plan has been formulated for the launch of our next novel Kate vs  The Navy.

*

Gareth Fothrington-Thomas has made a huge mistake. He’s given Dave Thomas a job without consulting Kate. And Dave and Kate have history – embarrassing, complicated history.

But the Ministry of Defence have just asked KoD Associates to oversee the closing of an almost-forgotten naval base. It’s the company’s biggest contract yet, and a good performance could mean Kate can finally buy Gareth out.

However, nothing is ever straightforward. Tracey views work as a chance to have fun. Kelvin’s virtual life is far more exciting than his real one. And Captain Norris and his crew not only want to stay employed, they’re also keeping a secret. A rather large grey secret.

When Kate misses a key meeting she feels the whole process slipping out of her hands. Even an unexpected upturn in her personal life can’t compensate for the worry that things are about to go horribly wrong …

Join the team who first appeared in Kate vs the Dirtboffins as they become reluctant and unwelcome guests on a tiny island, battle local wildlife and tackle the Royal Navy in another madcap adventure.

*

So, dear reader, you will now be champing at the bit to crack open our latest work. Well, here is the timetable:

8th November – Chapter 1 on-line

15th November – Chapter 2 on-line

22nd November – Chapter 3 on-line and book available to buy from Amazon

29th November – Book reaches the top of all sales charts and we are the toast of the literary world. (I might have made this one up, it’s not actually on the plan)

Along the way we’ll be showing you the new cover and talking to bloggers to sort out some reviews. In the meantime, you lot start saving your pennies and clearing your calendars, you have reading to do!

 

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I dream of NaNoWriMo

Phil: This time next month, hundreds of eager writers will be beavering away on their latest novel as part of National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo.

Since finding out about this event, I’ve dreamed of taking part. The idea of hammering out the first draft of a book in a month sounds great to me. Needing a deadline to get anything done, I can imagine the joy of racing the calendar to reach the glorious conclusion of your story.

Not this year though. Sadly, there are far too many deadlines in my work life to allow me to enjoy some creative writing. I know that if you want to write, everyone says you will find the time but even if I could, I’m not sure a few hours extra screen time in the evening or early morning is what I need on top of the day gawping at the thing.

What I need is NaGoFoAWa month – National Going for a walk month. Fresh air and exercise will do me more good. Perhaps I should start a movement?

Never mind. Maybe next year. If you are feeling inspired however, visit the NaNoWriMo website.

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Mr Gandy proves that people are more interesting than things

Phil: Another novel from the “heading to the charity shop” pile in our house, Mr Gandy’s Grand Tour has an interesting premise and proves to be a pleasant read.

Tim Gandy finds himself newly compulsorily retired from his graphic design job. His wife has no real interest in him, as do two of his three children. Just as he’s wondering what to do, the wife drops dead. You might think that this isn’t a great start to a story even from someone as warm and fuzzy as the countries favourite gardner, but it provides a catalyst for the rest of the book. Gandy decides to head off to Europe on a tour in the manner of aristocrats from years long past.

Along the way, he encounters lots of special people and has a few adventures – just the sort of thing you’d expect from a novel.

Gandy is a lapsed artist and propelled by his (deliberately) ancient guidebooks, he’s determined to see some of the great artistic treasures on offer. It’s here where the book bogs down a bit with little more than lists of “wonderful” things seen. I get the feeling that like many people he feels that art from hundreds of years ago is automatically beautiful whereas later stuff isn’t quite as worthy. I’ve been to the Louvre and while I agree the Mona Lisa is disappointing, it’s nothing compared to the miles of dreadful religious paintings that fill the corridors leading to it.

Anyway, when not looking at things, the story nips along with the sort of entertaining events that happen in novels but rarely in real life. I’d bet I could spend the rest of my life painting watercolour around Paris without being accosted by a beautiful chanteuse, although in this case, it’s probably a good thing.

Despite being retired, Gandy isn’t old, or at least not properly old so he can be useful and get around. He still wants to do things and not just reminisce. I’ve not read anything with an early retiree as the main character before and it’s slightly odd as you find this is just part of his life and things can and will change in it.

Fun? Yes. Did it make me want to follow in his footsteps? Not really.  Were I lounging on a sunbed (or in the room of a Holiday Inn which is where I read it) though, it’s pretty good.

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The Keeper of Lost Things

Phil: Meeting up with Candice on Monday for a chat through our edits, I shoved a book her way. All being well, she is on holiday as I write so I knew something for reading on the sunbed would be appreciated.

The author, Ruth Hogan, was at one of the Stratford Literary Festival sessions I went to earlier this year. At the time I wasn’t feeling flush enough to buy the hardback copy of the book, but the premise sounded really interesting so when the chance came to get a paperback, I did.

Let’s start with the description on the back:

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’ have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

Basically, Andrew has collected lots of stuff, carefully labelled it, stuffed it on shelves and intends to find the owners to return it. He doesn’t, but leaves the task, along with his house to Laura. There is also a dead fiance to consider, hunky gardner and special child.

Yes, it sounds a bit rubbish when I describe it like that, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers.  Probably best I don’t write the elevator pitch.

One of the highlights is that for many of the objects, there is a short story attached. Apparently, this was what Andrew wrote to make himself a successful author. The trouble was he wanted to write pieces with an edge, his publisher prefered fluffy happy tales and eventually, they parted company. I loved these little tales and suspect that there is a real book to match the fictional one in them.

Ruth weaves a couple of major plot strands through the book and for a while I couldn’t quite work out how they related to each other but by the end, everything ties up neatly and you have a happy “Oh, that’s what was happening moment.”

I enjoyed the book but it’s not perfect, there is some supernatural stuff that I could have lived without as I felt it dented the real world the rest of the plot lived in and Andrew seemed to do that literary thing of just deciding to drop dead in his rose garden in an unexplained way too.

Ultimately though, the basic idea is novel and pretty strong which overcomes any objections. I certainly enjoyed the read and picked it up every time I had a few minutes, always a good sign. It’s a pretty light and fun story which I expect the Nolan will enjoy as much as the sunbathing.

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Let’s talk about cake…

Phil: Regular readers will have noticed that team NolanParker enjoy many meetings powered by slices of cake. Since it is National Cake Week, I think we really need to look into this further.

Anyone who looks at me will know that I’m not averse to a slice of cake. However, I didn’t get serious about this until I met the Nolan.

Up to this point, cake munching was a strictly amateur task. Once we teamed up though, and especially once we started this blog, cake eating became more serious. Every cake had to be photographed to appear on these pages.

This has spread to my blog.

Now, when I go to events, I have to include a photo of any cake consumed in reviews. Due to public demand.

This has been going on long enough that I’m now known for my views on cake. It’s got so serious that people now ask me about cake rather than the models I’m supposed to be writing about. I was even waiting for a meeting at a preserved railway a few months ago and a group of hi-vis jacket wearing people spotted me and asked, “Are you here to try the cake?”

Freinds have commented that my Facebook feed only seems to show cake and beer pictures, sometimes both at the same time. This is partly because I’m not a 12-year-old girl who spends entire evenings taking a hundred photos of myself and my friends. Nor am I the middle-aged bloke in the pub last week who spent about 15 minutes casually leaning on a wall posing for his mate to take a photo. There’s probably a story in there as to why he thought that was a good idea but I wasn’t going to ask.

Cheese on the left, chalk on the right.No, the cake is simply more interesting and more photogenic than me. Some people take pictures of cats, I take snaps of cake. I don’t even eat that much of it, but what I do, I generously share via social media. I’m sure this is what Tim Berners-Lee hoped for when he invented the web.

We’re not the only cake-powered writer either. If there is a constant among those we have met, it’s tea (not coffee) and cake. No-one bangs on about posh water and salad in the same way no-one ever has said, “Oh good, cabbage for tea.”.

To be fair, the other constant is running, but I’ve decided that I’ll leave that to Candice.

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Beriberi doesn’t cause diarrhoea. Try dysentery.

Phil: We’re hard at work on the Kate vs the Navy’s edits thanks to some really superb work from proofreader Catherine Fitzsimons.

All the way through the manuscript, Catherine has annotated changes and made suggestions. Working on these is a little like the days of handing your work in to a teacher and seeing what they have written at the bottom of the page.

We’d expected little more than a tidy up for the grammar and spelling plus some useful text formatting. What we have is far better. Catherine has read the book and provided all sorts of plotline advice. There are notes about references that appear later in the book, the sort of the things you only know when you have fully grasped the structure of the narrative. To be honest, I think she knows our book better than we do!

Along the way there are also technical points such as the sort of illness one of the characters could have suffered in the past, although Candice was glad to have read this AFTER eating her Warwickshire Rarebit lunch (It’s like Welsh, but with local ingredients since you ask).

Once you get over the idea that someone has criticised your work, then the process of applying many of the suggestions is great fun. For a start, we have to really think about sections of text, some of which require a bit of head-scratching. However, the result will be far better than we’d have managed on our own and makes the service well worth every penny.

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