Tag Archives: book

National Writing Day 2018 – What are you writing?

Phil: It’s National Writing Day, which seems as good an opportunity as any to give you all an update on how team NolanParker are getting on.

Progress is being made on Book 3. Not fast, but definite progress. As ever, writing sessions are intermittent but we are getting the words down.

In our early days, I was worried about the balance between main story arc and funny stuff.  The Kate/Dave love story needs to move forward and in this book and it gets a little heavy and dramatic at points. This is lightened by the story around the firm they are closing down (or are they?) where are comic side comes out. At one point, we had loads of ideas for the love story but the funny stuff looked thin.

A few weeks and several discussions later, we have loads of funny stuff. It just came out of nowhere. Some of it absolute filth (in a funny way, at least for me as I can deny all knowledge when my mother reads it) too! The story has really taken off and we are coming up with loads of ideas. There is also the chance for some proper character development too. Tracey gets to shine a bit in this book and show a different side to her character – something my mother will approve of. It’s amazing just how the imaginary people we write about start doing their own thing once we let them.

Anyway, I am determined to write something this evening and not for work. If I don’t, Candice is going to shout at me on Saturday…

 

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Kindle or weight-lifting? The perils of author ego.

Phil: On my reading pile at the moment are Still Me by Jojo Moyes and Make a Killing on Kindle by a shouty American.

Both are good reads and neither has accompanied me on a train, my favourite place to read. Why not?

Because both are stupidly heavy. 1.7kg in total.

Now, I love a proper book as opposed to an e-reader, but looking at these things makes me wonder if I need to change my mind. In electronic form, these would be lighter than a feather. I’d be able to take them anywhere. Reading could be enjoyed wherever I have a few minutes.

Instead, the Kindle book has been sitting around since Candice gave it to me at Christmas. I’m up to chapter 8. It’s not that it’s bad (a bit shouty perhaps) but A4 sized and weighing as much as a large cat, I’m just not willing to lug the thing around.

Still Me was read in 4 chunks at home – the story is engaging enough to make me want to charge through it, but I’d still have rather read it on the train. I’ve passed the book on to the Nolan having warned her to bring a big bag. It’s a good job she’s a bit of a gym bunny.

Why are these things so massive?

The American I understand. It’s all bigger and better from him.

The novel? Publishers or authors ego. “Look at me”, the book shouts from the shelf in the supermarket, “I’m a really luxurious product.” In this day and age, there’s no need for hardbacks. The words would be the same in paper covers. I’m assuming it’s a combination of prestige and I suspect, profitability driving this.

Publisher – please think of your readers! I can’t be the only one put off reading because of the weight of the book, can I?

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Discover your characters with Instagram

Phil: Why was I in London last weekend looking at posh products in St Pancras station?

It’s all down to Candice’s latest marketing wheeze. We’ve set up an Instagram account for our main character, Kate Smith.

On her account, Kate posts pictures of things she sees and likes. Along the way, she comments on the photos, mostly about how much easier life is without children, but there’s also been musing on Jane Fonda and the being able to enjoy chocolate cake after working out.

All this is great fun to do and it’s made me really get inside her head, especially for me as Candice is normally firmly in charge of Kate on the page!

On my trip to London (not just for this, I just had time to kill), I found myself walking around in Kate’s shoes (not literally, I don’t think I could manage high heels) looking at the goodies on offer in the posh shops section of the Eurostar station undercroft. I snapped away with my phone, sending the results to Candice to post on Instagram over time. She will add comments and hashtags to each before it goes up on the site. Or just deleting the picture if I get it wrong.

Hopefully, later in the week, we’ll be meeting up to write and chat and I’ll receive further instruction in “Kate thinking” – it’s all very educational and helps to give Kate an added dimension, at least in my mind. I suppose this is a little like “method acting” where you immerse yourself in a character. It’s certainly not the sort of thing I thought we’d be doing when we started writing our books, but then why not have some fun along the way?

Kate Smith on Instagram (katebooks)

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The Party by Elizabeth Day

Image result for the party book

Candice: After all of this talk of holidays I thought I ought to write a review of one of the books I read while I was away.

I picked up The Party as I liked the sound of the premise, not unusual but thought it would be a change from my usual police procedural.

The story is around Martin and Ben who met at boarding school, went to University together and are now about to celebrate Ben’s 40th.  They come from two different worlds, Martin from a single parent family of little means who managed to get a scholarship to the school, Ben from an old moneyed family.

Martin is an odd, isolated character, who displays almost psychopathic tendencies with some of his actions; as when he kills a bird that has fallen, injured into the school playground.  This gives an insight that all is not well with him.

By the time he meets Ben he is a boy very much on his own and Ben takes him under his wing, for no reason that I can see. Ben makes sure Martin is not bullied and takes him back to his house during the school holidays.  By the time they go to University Martin’s mother is doesn’t really feature in his life. But that’s Martin’s plan.  He can see opportunity in Ben’s family, and a life that he thinks he deserves, a life of money and privilege.

The book cuts back and forth between past and present, explaining how Martin met his wife as well as scenes at Ben’s spectacular party.  Now turning 40 Martin is a journalist who has just published a successful art book, Ben a stockbroker with an obscene amount of money. His party is being held in the grounds of his lavish pile in the Cotswolds with all the current celebs and political figures attending.

Their relationship is not as it was, Martin hero worships Ben but he starting to move away from him, neither of their wives like the closeness of their relationship too.

Intercut with Martin’s story is his wife’s, Lucy,  told to a therapist.  We discover she is currently in care because of something that happened at the party.  As the story unfolds we find a woman who lacks confidence and was swept off her feet by the silver tongue of her husband.  But she’s not that stupid and over the years had put two and two together that there is more between the two male friends.

With the party coming to a close Ben and his trophy wife break the news to Martin and Lucy that they need to stop seeing them.  Ben is standing to be an MP and Martin carry’s a dark secret,  at University they were involved in a car accident where a girl died.  What Ben’s wife doesn’t know (but Lucy has worked out) is that Martin took the fall for Ben, mainly to tie himself even more closely to his friend.  Ben’s family has been funding Martin’s lifestyle ever since.

I was disappointed with this book.  I read it very quickly, interested to know how it panned out though I had an idea that something like the accident would have happened.  But how disappointing was the ending?  To me Martin gives up at the end, he is just left living on his own talking about making a plan to get back to Ben but that feels weak.  Lucy is the strong character as she separates from him and also shows her anger at Ben and family by lashing out at them, hence why she is seeing a therapist.

So worth a read but prepare yourself to fall off the edge at the end.

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20,000 words

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Candice: So there is often a conversation when we get just past this point in book writing where Phil and I will go “How are we ever going to get to 80,000 words?”

This time around we are motoring along, with over 20,000 words in the bag and, with an overnight in a hotel for me this week and a long flight for Phil coming up, we will easily get to 30,000.

I’ve been busy putting together the random collection of ideas we have already written into one document so we can see how the flow is working and what gaps we can spot.  Though we have already had a few plotting sessions often, even with something written down, we can go off piste as an idea takes us, and then you have to work out if it will fit with everything else. A perfect example is a forgotten chapter, written months ago, that references a character than Phil has brought back, but with them having a different name and the chapter having an end that doesn’t fit with our timeline.

After an hour over tea in Solihull Library the other day we’d pinned down a few more things in my spreadsheet, both plot lines and dates and then spent a pleasant hour and a half drafting up 1500 words each, before the high stools that we had to sit on gave me so much back pain a lunch break had to be called.

At the moment I can see us creeping towards that magic number easily, we’ve two chunky plot threads that need to be fleshed out and then a big finale which always takes at least a third of the book.

So don’t knock the spreadsheet.  Though I have to say I think we’ve hit that point much earlier this book, it just shows how you fine tune your art every time you do a new one.  We’ll have this book out by Christmas…

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I’m looking up bad words in the library

Phil: Progress on our next book hasn’t been rapid recently. Both Candice and I are living very busy lives at the moment and things are getting in the way of writing. We’ve bashed some idea around via e-mail, but it’s not the same as meeting up in person, and it certainly doesn’t get the word count up.

Easter meant that the people in my office were away, leaving me in peace to catch up on some work, and with a day off that I decided would be given over to novel-writing.

Since I work from home, a trip to the local library would be a good break too. iPod on, laptop out, words written.

It’s odd working in the library. I keep looking around and remembering it’s where I learnt to swim.

You see, Leamington Spa is over-supplied with rather useless old buildings that eat council tax but can’t actually be used for anything of benefit. Worse, if you try to do anything with them, you face the wrath of those desperate to pickle the town in aspic in an imaginery verison of 1910.

Still, the conversion of swimming pool to library has worked well. Centrally located, it has enough space for books and a gallery full of reference works and tables for students or itnierant writers. These are popular. So popular that people go out to lunch or shopping leaving all their worldly goods in their space so no-one else grabs the seat. If you want a free laptop, just hang around until one of the students has wandered off…

Anyway, it worked. Almost 5000 words down. A great new plot strand developed and a few changes to our plans made once the characters started to do their thing on the page.

Thanks to the free WiFi, I was able to work out what the sound of someone being sick looks like in letters. I also checked out the plots of several plays that form part of our plot. OK, I did slope off for lunch (taking my stuff with me) and a refreshing half of rhubarb cider to lubricate the creative juices, but then it’s my day off…

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The Lubetkin Legacy – Two Stories. One book.

Phil: You don’t read many books where a block of flats is a central character, but in The Lubetkin Legacy by Marina Lewycka, the building plays a central role in the plot.

Story 1 – Lily Lukashenko dies and her dying words to son Bertie are “Don’t let them get the flat.” He has been living with her since the breakup of his marriage, unable on his actor’s salary, to afford anything else. To be fair, his acting work seems to be mostly “resting” and grumbling about the success of George Clooney. To be fair, George probably can’t quote Shakespeare as well as Berthold, but that’s as good as it gets.

In an effort to avoid eviction, he moves the lady from the next door hospital bed in to impersonate Lily with modestly comic effect, especially if you consider the names of Eastern European meals to be amusing.

Along the way, there is much rage about the problems faced by people relying on the state for an income. Officialdom comes calling many times, although one particular functionary eventually lifts Bertie out of his gloom.

Story 2 – Violet is a young Kenyan-born woman who gets a job in the city working in “wealth preservation”. This turns out to be tax avoidance and plundering African countries funds by overcharging the health services for basic supplies. She quickly grows a conscience and decides that the dream job really isn’t.

The two characters are neighbours and interact sporadically. There is a plot involving building plans that involve grubbing up a patch of cherry trees to be replaced with executive flats.

If I’m honest, Bertie ends up OK, but pretty much nothing else nice happens in the end. Violet is back in Kenya working for an NGO, but her efforts to expose dodgy dealings don’t go well. The trees get cut down. One character dies due to lack of money. If this is what The Times considers “A joy to read”, then I can only assume the reviewer likes seeing poor people get a kicking. Even those officials who went into public service are worn down and cynical. Everyone assumes that bad things are just going to happen and you might as well accept it.

One of the central plot strands, that Lily had an affair with the architect Lubetkin who designed the flats and left her a tenancy, is never tied up. Bertie finds a plan under the sofa but that’s it.

I’d planned for this review to be a bit more upbeat, but after a couple of days mulling the book over since finishing it, I’m just becoming more miserable about the story. I think that’s partly the point. Lewycka has written several other books including the well known A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian and I suspect that these are also full of downtrodden people. You certainly feel for the characters (OK, I certainly do, maybe the Times doesn’t) and the lives they are trapped in.

The contrast between people working in “wealth preservation” and those at the bottom of the pile constantly being ripped off is pretty powerful. Very much a serious message wrapped in pretty paper.

 

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