Tag Archives: beer

That Near-Death Thing

That Near-Death ThingPhil: I don’t do sports. Growing up being the last one picked for every sport at school put me off taking part in them for life. I can’t stand football, don’t understand cricket, can watch snooker but only if Ronnie O’Sullivan isn’t playing ‘cos his fans are all rude noisy w***ers.

I do have a soft spot for motorcycle racing however. Unlike Formula 1 cars, there is overtaking and real tension. The best racing though is to be found on the Isle of Man. For just over 37 miles, riders on motorbikes hurtle around a small and beautiful island in the Irish sea travelling along normal roads dodging walls, lampposts and other solid trackside features. Driving around the course is an awe-inspiring experience, especially when you realise your car is travelling at 30mph at the same spot man in leathers will be doing nearly 200.

21 years ago, I first visited the Isle of Man. It was during the TT practise week and every evening the streets of the capital were turned in to a race track. Standing outside a newsagent shop at a point where there was an S-bend in the road, I realised that the racers on their sidecar sets were pointing at me for a fraction of a second. Since there was a slight hill crest in the middle of the bend at this point, the wheels left the tarmac. I moved behind a green telecoms box on the pavement, a wholly inadequate shield, but the best on offer.

Listening to the local radio at the hotel each morning, there were always reports of deaths on the course. Not from those racing, but from fans who thought after a few beers that they could ride windy, complicated roads in the dark. Sadly, they found out that it takes skill not alcohol to do this, something that would go through their mind as they ploughed in to a stone wall.

The TT course is dangerous, but no one likes to talk about it.

Except Rick Broadbent. He has written a superb book on the race – not looking at nerdy details but talking to the characters who battle each year to win a TT.

Each man, and one woman, have their own motivations for taking on the challenge. The common factor seems to be not a death-wish but the feeling that you get living on the edge of disaster. They all know how tough it is. They all know the risks, but those risks are integral to the challenge.

Now, I’m pretty risk-averse. I’ve never ridden on a motorbike and have no interest in trying one. I am fascinated by the people who are very unlike me in this respect.

We meet lots of characters: Guy Martin is well-known as TV companies have picked up on his “character” and shoehorn him into different formats, mostly ones that once would have been sent to Fred Dibnah. He’s always struck me as a top bloke who would make excellent company over tea and beer. Well, if you don’t mind talking old engines and spanners anyway. In so many ways, he is TV gold and sadly that can seem to get in the way of being a professional racer. Guy has yet to win a TT after years of trying.

John McGuiness used to be a cockle picker in Morecambe. He travels to the TT in a motor home and has won it many, many times. The exact opposite of a sporting superstar, slightly overweight and middle-aged, he currently holds the lap record with an average speed of 131mph.

Ian Huthinson managed the remarkable feat of winning every TT race in 2010. Later that year he was involved in an accident that nearly ended his career and kept him from serious racing for 3 years.

The Dunlop brothers come with history and something to prove. When your Uncle Joey is the most succesful racer in the events history and you have to pass a statue of him on each lap, everyone expects you to do well.

Conor Cummins is the Manxman who was poised for greatness in 2010. Leading the TT, he fell off his bike. And then off a mountain. The whole things was captured on film from a helicopter (Don’t worry, there are no gory bits). The book takes us through the accident and his subsequent recovery and it’s here that we see just how all this matters to the people who take part. Interviews reveal that the injuries aren’t just physical, although these are bad enough, they are mental with Cummins struggling to come to terms with not being able to do the one thing he loves.

Beyond the racers, we meet the families, the wives and partners, the mothers and fathers. Those who support and worry. Even the ones who mourn like Bridget Dobbs who travelled from New Zealand with her husband Paul to take part in the TT as they had done for several years. 2010 was the year he didn’t finish the race. It finished him. You might expect bitterness but instead there is passion. She firmly believes that her husband died doing what he loved and that life is better live in a blaze of light for a short period than it is simply existing as a dull glow.

That’s what this book is about – Character. People. The people who do something extraordinary yet when you see inside the helmet, profess to be very ordinary.

I don’t do sports books, this is probably the first one I have ever read. It’s so good though that I couldn’t put it down. Broadbent introduces the character and lets them talk. It’s no hagiography, we see them warts and all. Unlike the excellent film shot during 2010, there is a lot less Guy Martin than you might expect. The author knows he’s a character and excellent content, but we also see the side of riders who wonder why a man who has never won the race gets all the attention.

There is a bit of nerdy detail but very little, just enough to provide background for anyone unfamiliar with the TT. This is about people and emotions and all the better for it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Phil, Writing

The loneliness of the long distance writer

BeerPhil: OK, so the Nolan has outed me. I do have a newish job that has been eating up my time. It’s not exactly “fancy” but at it pays the bills and I’m chuffed to have it.

Some of you will know that I have moved from being the nerdy guy in IT when I met Candice, to being a really nerdy writer for British Railway Modelling Magazine as well as editing an on-line mag 3 times a week in the same field. Quite frankly, I’m such an anorak I’m amazed she still talks to me…

Anyway, that’s my excuse for being a bit rubbish on the book front. No new house, apart from a miniature one, and any bump I have is all doughnuts and not baby.

The problem with all this is that I work from home. No office for me. Colleagues are on the end of a phone or e-mail. I drive 70 miles to the office once a month for an editorial meeting. Apart from that, unless we meet up at an exhibition, then I’m on my own.

Which is why, despite crazy deadlines hanging over me, an editor champing at the bit to push files in the direction of the designer, and the Christmas break driving everyone nuts as everything has to be at the press a week earlier, by the time some of you are reading this, I hope to be in London. Drinking beer.

Us home workers don’t get a Christmas “do”. I’m not complaining, as I’ve explained in the past, I’m not a great fan of enforced office jollity. I’m not the one wearing flashing reindeer and throwing shapes on the photocopiers. I can deal with meeting colleagues from my own and even rival publications for a drink while enjoying the capitals festive ambiance. It’s a small world I work in and the chance to catch up with the gossip isn’t to be missed.

More to the point, while working from home allows the worker to choose their own hours – as long as my copy goes in on time no one worries when I wrote it – sometimes those hours are well outside the normal office ones. I need a day off and I need it badly. Even writing about a hobby can be hard work and there’s a lot more keyboard hammering to do yet! The hours I’ll be chosing to work will include this weekend.

Which brings me back to The Book.

You might think that The Book would be the last thing on my mind. Far from it; I am really looking forward to getting back in to a world populated by the characters who are in our heads. It might still be typing on a screen but it’s a very different beast. OK, there’s no publisher (yet) sitting waiting for copy but that might come. Self-publishing actually sounds exciting, a whole new world to experience. Yes, there will be setbacks but I can’t let this thing go now, so as soon as Madam puts down the roller we’ll be back at it I hope.

Something to look forward to in the new year.

2 Comments

Filed under Phil, Writing

Two heads – Better than one?

2 headsPhil: In the latest Writers Forum magazine, there is an interesting interview with Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders. They write under the name “Annie Sanders”.

There is discussion around the advantages of writing as a partnership, many of which I understand fully wot with Nolan and I doing the same sort of thing. It seems that our modus operandi, writing a chapter and then handing it to the other to comment, on is the same as this pair. The only difference is they have a book deal. The deal itself relied on the combined name – signing two writers for one novel is apparently very unusual and the editor was very nervous about doing it. Combining the names into a single author sealed it.

This isn’t the only case – Nicci French is the pseudonym of husband-and-wife team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Apparently they also write alternate chapters and then edit each other work. Ashworth and Sanders wonder how they manage to stay sane living and writing together. I can see their point, collaborating on a book you need to know a little about each others thinking but also bring different elements to the keyboard. It’s a good idea to take a break occasionally. How do you do this when you’re both under the same roof?

Grant Naylor is the collective name used by writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor for their work on the television series Red Dwarf. Grant and Naylor themselves called this pseudonym a “gestalt entity” (i.e. something which is greater than the sum of its parts) and cleverly used the concept as a plot in one episode of the series. I don’t know how they work but I assume it involves a bit of keyboard bashing in the morning followed by an afternoon in the pub inventing more plotlines.

Well, that’s what I see as our future writing style anyway.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Phil, Writing

Beer and book festivals

Betty Stoggs BeerPhil: A few posts ago, Ms Nolan commented adversely on my ability to have a drink without feeling poorly the next day. I retorted that it must have been something to do with the quality of the beer, and not my ability to handle it. I don’t think she was convinced.

So, purely in the interests of science, I headed off to the Long Itchington Beer Festival to see who was right. Obviously, I took no pleasure in this, although the pint of “Betty Stoggs” was particularly good, but did it just to prove a point. After all, I can’t be going around having my manhood impuned on the Internet can I ?

You’ll be pleased to know that despite consuming (for the purposes of science as noted earlier) twice as much beer as I had after the book festival, in the morning I felt absolutely fine. Point proved. Nolan – Nah Nah Nahnana.

Talking of the book festival, I opened yesterdays Guardian to see a piece by Deborah Orr recommending a couple of writers. Who should be smiling out from the page ? Only that Rachel Joyce who we saw at the festival.

Rachel Joyce Review in the Guardian

 

2 Comments

Filed under Phil

Beer and in-jokes

Phil: I’m not one for DVD box-sets. Most of the time, once I’ve seen a series, I’m not in a hurry to see it all over again. Maybe if you’ve got all thirty thousand episodes of Friends on disk then you can watch one without remembering the plot, but for most, the pleasure of new discovery is gone and I’d rather see something new. I’m the same with films, the collection is in single figures with the rest from Lovefilm for a couple of watches and then back in the post.

The exception to the rule is Inspector Morse. I might know whodunnit every time now, but the pacing of the plot, this was the first UK drama series to try two-hour episodes, and sheer quality of the filming makes me happy to watch them repeatedly. OK, so I tend to do other things while “watching” telly but you get the idea. Thus when ITV decided to flog the deceased equine again for a one-off prequel called “Endeavor”, I made an effort to watch it.

My opinion – very good – I worked out the murderer about three-quarters of the way through but that isn’t a problem, in fact it kept me watching to see if I was right.

The biggest fault was the inclusion of too may nods toward the original series. The Jaguar car I can deal with. In the period, most Police forces used them so the detail is correct. Only an anorak would comment that he seemed to be using the hand brake on the wrong side, so I won’t. However, we had opera, drinking (I’m coming back to this in a minute), workaholism, squeamishness with blood, problems with women, crimes in Jerico (scene of the very first Morse episode) as well as many other previous (future ?) locations, plus many others even I didn’t spot.

All of these must have been so tempting to the writer. After all, it’s part of the Morse cannon so we want to have lots for the fans to spot don’t we ? Personally, no, but I understand the temptation.

Despite being unpublished and therefore, sans readers, we are trying to work out how to deal with Book 1 in Book 2. Can we refer to anything in the first story ? Should we for those fans who have been with us from the beginning ? Obviously we have to assume that most people are reading us for the first time but does the odd in-joke hurt ? Is it in fact a good thing, a kind of thank you ?

Anyway, while you ponder this, back to the beer.

In the TV series, Morse is an alcoholic. The illness kills him in the end but long before this, it has come to partly define his character. Thinking is done in pubs with good beer. Someone therefore thought that it would be really clever for young Morse to be teetotal. What a clever wheeze !

The clued up immediately spot problems – in those days you simply didn’t get on in the Police force if you didn’t drink. I used to work for an ex-chief constable who described how on the CID course there was a role-call at 2am in the bar and if anyone had sloped off to bed, they were dragged back for more refreshment. Even 20 years ago, this was the case according to at least one person I knew. Thus, I can’t see Morse getting away without comment at the very least and being sent to Coventry at worst.

Worse, when he finally does drink, the makers get it wrong. The scene is just after he has fainted at the sight of a post-mortem. His boss takes him to a pub and orders two beers. Morse protests that he doesn’t drink but is told to “get it down you”. Which he does.

Now, I like beer but will happily admit that it is an acquired taste. At first, the stuff is horrible and bitter. It’s why da kidz drink alcopops, they are like soft drinks which taste lovely. Morse, as a non-drinker would have at best sipped timidly at his drink. Instead he gets through half a pint in two swigs. Considering it appears to be a pretty heavy porter beer, hardly a light pint for the delicate palette, this is good going or just wrong. Needless to say, he is immediately on the beer for the rest of the episode. From TT to AA in twenty seconds.

What’s annoying is that there was no need for this. Just let the man drink fron the outset and stop being “clever”. An in-joke too far methinks.

2 Comments

Filed under Phil, Writing

Facing criticism

Phil stared down into his beer. The delicious Old Speckled Hen coursed through his system and started to dull the pain of what he feared was to come. This was high noon for the writers. The day when all the chickens would be coming home to roost. It was the day he had arranged to meet V and find out what she thought  of The Book.

He had met V three jobs ago. She was a PA who ruled her boss and his department with an iron fist. She wasn’t so much the power behind the throne as the ventriloquist behind the dummy. Grown men cowed in her presence and Phil remembered more than once receiving a verbal slap down over the telephone when he dared to step over a previously invisible line

But this made V the ideal person to read The Book. She wouldn’t pull her punches. If there were problems, they would be exposed. If the plot was rubbish, blushes would not be spared. At the end of the day, if The Book had satisfied its reader then a good job could be said to be done.

OK, I’m hamming things up a bit, but this week I’ve received a couple of feedbacks from our second batch of test readers. I won’t be telling you the results until they have been discussed with Candice but the one thing I can be sure of is that they are fair assessments. Some friends are too close to be honest, they might fear causing offense by criticising a project that you’ve been rambling on about in the pub. Others though, aren’t so close so you don’t feel too bad about asking them to devote time to reading your great work whilst being confident that they will tell you the unvarnished truth.

I made it clear to all my test readers that what we needed was honesty. If it’s rubbish, tell me. OK, so this might be ignored but it’s your opinion. It’s possibly an opinion likely to be shared by someone who we approach to publish the thing. On the other hand, if it’s good then there’s the chance of some word-of-mouth that might just reach the ears of someone useful.

The other thing is that opinions vary. I’ve bounced early feedback off later readers and they have disagreed. OK, it’s not a focus group, but I’m doing my best on a limited budget most of which is spent on beer.

For the writer, it’s important to be open to criticism and make this very obvious. We are conditioned (mostly) not to be confrontational and so sitting down to tell some hard truths about a manuscript someone has spent ages slaving over is very difficult. A pint of beer or cake helps but it’s still a big ask to get someone to give up time to read and then comment on your book. It has to be done though. I mean, I think it’s great and so does my friend Candice. But then we aren’t really the most impartial of witnesses.

Whether V liked it, you’ll have to wait to find out. I need to discuss the results with my colleague first. Watch this space.

1 Comment

Filed under Phil, Publishing, Writing

You don’t deserve books

Phil: I was going to base this post on the article in the Observer bemoaning the death of chick-lit. The premise is interesting and since we’ve written a novel that might be in this category, I ought to be really concerned that the market for the genre has dipped by 10%.

But then I read the comments. There I discover that Phud defines chick-lit as “Shoes, shopping and shagging. Turgid, whimsical bollocks written by middle-class, middlebrow, wine-sipping chocoholics.”

This has me worried. Am I a middlebrow, wine-sipping chocoholic ? If I am, should I care ?

Let’s start from the top. I am middle-class, in fact both of us are. There are a lot less working-class people in the UK than there are people who claim to be. If you are sitting in an office and sipping a coffee that didn’t come out of a jar marked instant, then you can stop pretending to be one with those toiling at the coal face or labouring in an ironworks.

Middelbrow ? I had to look this up since a brow in the middle of your face is probably a mustache. According to Wikipedia, the term middlebrow describes both a certain type of easily accessible art. Is this a bad thing ?

Wine-sipping. Not me. I don’t understand the stuff. Give me proper British beer. I won’t be mentioning Candice’s drinking habits, but if anyone else wants to in the comments…

Finally, chocoholic. Not me. Never touch the stuff. Honest.

So we probably are everything Phud hates.

Actually, if I want that sort of odium, then the Guardian/Observer message boards are the place to go, in the mainstream anyway. Left wingers are often portrayed as humorless miseries and a very small number of them do their best to fit the caricature. You can’t simply enjoy something, the pleasure has to be earned. It’s a bit opus dei for me. The pleasure is in the pain of the journey rather than the destination. Maybe if we insist readers flagellate themselves while reading, our book will be seen as a “good” thing.

Why is it that “hard” art and literature is seen as better than the accessible stuff ? Jack Vettriano is loved by millions but according to the art world, his output is rubbish. Surely there is a skill in making things easy for people ? No one ever tells you that a difficult to follow set of instructions is better than an easy to read version do they ?

Not being one to miss a marketing opportunity, if you feel that a book should be an agony to read, should you not only be a “glass half empty” person but a “glass half empty and what there is in there is a sprinkle of broken glass and a pile of puetird dung” person then please buy the special edition of ours. It’s will cost £5000 but I will personally come round and jab you with sharp objects as you read. And shout rude words. You don’t get the last 3 chapters either ‘cos you might enjoy finding out how it all ends. That way you can be miserable and happy.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Phil, Writing

Good writing is overrated

Phil: This week we sat down and came up with a new mantra. “Stop messing around and get on with it.”

Progress has stalled while we fiddle with the book text then hum and haw over the query letter. Simply beating the first paragraph of the later into shape took 2 cakes, a pint and half of beer, 2 cups of tea and a glass of over-chlorinated water. I leave it to you to work out who consumed what but the point is we aren’t going to get anywhere until we start pushing this book out to some agents and publishers.

Those who aspire to bookdom know that the standard advice is to keep polishing your manuscript until it is perfect. I suppose this is because there are people out there who send off a first draft without bothering to see if it reads well and which professionals would rather not see bloating the slush pile. On the other hand it might just be a way of saying, “We’ve got enough books now. Would you all stop sending them to us.”, but I don’t think so. After all, publishers need new books. If the gems were never sent because the authors were busy agonising over odd words and commas then they would pretty quickly go bust.

It’s not like the manuscript is going to be untouched once a publisher has it either. At some point an editor will get their mitts on it and tell the poor author that the style stinks or the story needs more shape or that chapter 2 is b*****s and should be re-written before home time tonight or you won’t get any tea.

No, while polishing is all very well, we have concluded that there is something more important.

Tell a rollocking good story.

Look at it this way, has anyone ever read a book just because it was well written ? Yes ? Well they probably don’t get out much. No one, and by this I mean no-one who matters, goes on holiday with a whopper picked up from the airport bookshop and comes back saying that they enjoyed the punctuation or that the use of the past participant was excellent.

On the other hand, they do buy books that literary types consider very badly written. And they buy them in spades. I give you Dan Brown as an example. Even on the Writers & Artists day there were comments from the front about the quality of the prose, but no moans about the sales. When you buy a book you want to be transported to another world. As long as the writing style doesn’t get in the way and you are enjoying the plot, then you keep turning pages until the end.

Which is what we think we have written. There are some scene setting bits, some funny bits and some parts where we just move things along. You want to know about these people, you wonder if Kate will get it together with her old flame, find out why things are happening and see a few people get their just deserts – and by that I don’t mean trifle.

Neither of us is Lynne Truss, we want to be Dan Brown. Not only do we dream of seeing well-thumbed piles of our books in charity shops, we aspire to film deals, long lunches at The Ivy and book tours. All of this requires healthy sales and people desperate to know what happens in books 2 to 7.

Oh, and there is a discussion on the importance of “correct” English taking place on the Ceefax Letters pages. Someone has suggested that Shakespeare wouldn’t have been succesful if he hadn’t used the “correct” language. I’d suggest that using a man who couldn’t spell his own surname consistently and operated at a time when most of the population couldn’t read anyway as an example, might not be the best plan. Anyway, only masochists and actors read his plays. The rest of us go and see them on stage, where they usually are a rollocking good story.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

How to get free beer for writing

Beer at the Long Itchington Beer FestivalPhil: If you look at this picture you will be thinking that it shows a barman handing over a pint of beer to a waiting customer. That would be correct, but it is better than that. If you carefully examine the photograph you will in fact see that it is the barman from the Green Man pub in Long Itchington handing over a freshly poured pint of “Flying Dutchman”, a nice light golden summery beer, and that no money has changed hands.

So how do I manage to get people to give me free beer ?

Simple, among my other writings, I run a blog amusingly (I think) called The Travelling Philbury. On it I write notes about trips out I have had. While I might not be a Bill Bryson, it’s fun to have a go and you never know, someone might be interested.

Well, they were. The landlord of the Green Man also runs the Long Itchington Beer festival and enjoyed my write-up a couple of years ago. At the time my visit we’d missed his pub out of the tour. If I came back the next year, a free drink was promised. I did, described the pub and especially the toilet facilities and thanks to the crowds, missed out on the drink. This year I was not to be defeated.

So, the trick is simple. Write about places to drink. Hope the owners spot your words and that they like them enough to offer free refreshment. Enjoy.

So far, in 4 years I’ve managed 1 pint. Beat that Bryson.

Update: Beer blogging is so popular, there is a conference about it !

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing