The Authenticity Project

Phil: As we’ve mentioned in the past, I’m rubbish at taking holidays, but I felt I needed a break and decided that last Saturday would be a reading day. My plan involved doing nothing more than lounging around with my nose buried in a book.

But which book? The reading pile is tall and I didn’t want something that I’d have to slog through.

My choice: The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley. Reader, I chose well.

Six strangers with one thing in common: their lives aren’t always what they make them out to be.
What would happen if they told the truth instead?

Julian Jessop is tired of hiding the deep loneliness he feels. So he begins The Authenticity Project – a small green notebook containing the truth about his life.

Leaving the notebook on a table in his friendly neighbourhood café, Julian never expects Monica, the owner, to track him down after finding it. Or that she’ll be inspired to write down her own story.

Little do they realize that such small acts of honesty hold the power to impact all those who discover the notebook and change their lives completely.

Artist Julian Jessop writes the truth about his life in a notebook and leaves it for others to find. They add their own “truths” as the book travels around them. Julian is desperately lonely, Monica wants marriage and children, even though she wonders if she should, and so on.

The premise is really interesting. What are we really like in the depths of our soul? How does this compare with the face we show to the rest of the world. I suspect that everyone hides some deeper secrets but wear a suit of armour. We’ve written our main character, Kate, like this and it’s not an original premise. How the idea is handled is what matters.

I liked all the characters, admittedly some more than others. Cleverly, there is someone most of us can identify with in the cast list. I’m very much Monica who abandoned her life as a city lawyer after a colleague faces up to the horror that all those extra hours at work are just a way of escaping life and does something terrible. As you read, you wonder what you would do, how should you change things in your own life?

OK, this is light fiction and so you need to suspend disbelief occasionally. The flimsy book seems to survive its travels well and finds just the right person in the right frame of mind no matter where it is left – but then the story would be a lot shorter if it had been chucked in the bin in the cafe. I don’t want a documentary, this is fiction, entertain me!

Aside from that, everything worked for me. I particularly liked Instagram star Alice, based very much on the author, whose very public perfect life is the result of a lot of effort, lies and clever photography. I’m fascinated by “influencers” and their apparently perfect lives. It’s summed up by Alice realising her kitchen might look like everyone’s dream, but it doesn’t feel like home. How often have I watched Grand Designs and wondered what those picture-perfect houses that cost a fortune are actually like to live in day-in-day-out?

Sadly, Alice’s is the only story not neatly tied up by the end. Everyone else reaches a pleasantly satisfactory conclusion. Exactly as a feel-good novel should do.

I consumed this in a couple of sessions – just what I needed. Now I’m refreshed and ready to go again.

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The machine starts? What can we learn from stories?

Phil: A few days ago, the government floated the idea that everyone 50 years and over should be shut away for the duration of the pandemic. While they quickly denied that they had suggested the idea to some excitable tabloid journalists, it stuck in my mind. Partly ‘cos I’ve just reached the age of being locked up and doubt that government food parcels, if they are part of the plan, would include Tunnocks teacakes.

At the same time, I was discussing the prospects of going to public shows and exhibitions on my blog.

Both there and on other bits of social media, I find plenty of people who quite like being locked down. Not in a purvey way (stop sniggering Nolan) but a mixture of introversion and social anxiety means they are quite happy being told not to go and mix with other people. A couple said they were quite happy ordering everything online and chatting via video calls. Hunkering down at home and shutting the world out is appealing.

This put me in mind of the short story, The Machine Stops, by EM Forster. The story describes a world in which most humanity lives in isolation underground in standard rooms, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global machine. This gradually breaks down, but acknowledging this isn’t allowed.

You can read the full text here.

Now, doesn’t that sound a bit like the natural extrapolation of all those happy to shut themselves off from real contact? Unknowingly, Forster is showing us our potential future.

We see it in film too. Look at the people in Disney’s Wall-E. Locked in their mobile seats endlessly staring into a screen.

Some say we should learn from history, but it’s just as important to look at the worlds writers have conjured up for us. After all, we are the first people who can deal with our problems in this way. When I was a kid, the Interweb was science fiction. Mail order existed, but only by telephone. Grocery delivery was unheard of. Now, for many, there is no pressing reason to leave the house, and we are constantly told many excuses not to do so.

Imagination is a powerful thing. We should harness it.

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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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Missing feeling like a PROPER author

Phil: According to my increasingly useless* calendar, last weekend we should have been enjoying the Writing West Midlands conference.

Candice and I have enjoyed our trip to Aston University for the last few years. It’s always a good day out. We look down the list of presentations and seminars then dole them out between us. Being a team is very handy when two events are on at the same time because we can pool our knowledge over lunch or tea. They do excellent catering at these events. Good cake, and we like a good cake.

Surrounded by other authors, it feels like we are actually part of “the industry”. I know we’ve knocked out a couple of books but neither of us gets to live off writing fiction, so we don’t feel we’ve “made it” yet. And yes I know very few authors survive purely on the income from writing, but allow me the fantasy.

Sadly, it’s not happening this year. The shoes I wear because they feel suitably authorly will stay in the wardrobe. My only complaint is that with the event being held in the summer, it’s always too hot to wear my tweed jacket which feels even more writely.

Attending writing events has been an unexpected highlight of our literary efforts. OK, we are paying to go rather than being feted up on stage (except for Stratford Literary Festival a few years ago) but it’s a start. We’ve seen some interesting talks from fascinating people. There have been moments to groan over too as the first question from the audience is always someone who just wants to talk about themselves, but it’s part of the fun.

Writing West Midlands events tend to be more technical with useful ideas on publishing and publicity. We, hard-core writers, feel more at home there than at those events where celebrities just pitch their latest book to an adoring room of fans. That and we can never get tickets for the later.

Mind you, if anyone feels the need to hear from a couple of entertaining writers about some really funny books at your international literary festival or local book club, please give us a shout!

 

*Useless, unless your hobby is crossing out events you can’t go to any more, then it’s brilliant – loads of practice.

 

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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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