Tag Archives: Books

I hope our book doesn’t date this badly

Phil: Picking up a book of short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I’m struck by the contents, some of which make me feel uncomfortable.

Round The Fire Stories contains 17 tales from the master who created Sherlock Holmes. Many of them read and feel like something the great detective could have been involved with. Indeed, one of them includes a letter from someone who could very well be Holmes. If you like the style, then this is an interesting read.

But, and it’s a big but, some of the text has not aged well. Conan Doyle writes of an age of empire. Form the days when most of the map was pink and the sun never set on Her Britannic Majesties lands. We have plucky Brits out running the colonies or travelling to mysterious lands.

I quite like a bit of this. Part of me hankers for an era when travel was difficult and going abroad was an adventure, not somewhere you go for a stag/hen weekend and spend the time bladdered.

But with this comes some unfortunate racial issues. The Brown Hand revolves around a ghost of a beggar who comes to claim back his hand from the surgeon who severed it (saving the mans life) and keeps it in a jar. The hero of the story allows the spectre to find another hand made available after an accident and this seems to satisfy him enough to cease his haunting. The ghost can’t rest until he is “whole” and yet is happy with some else’s hand – because in the spirit world, all brown hands are apparently the same and he won’t know the difference.

It gets worse in The Fiend of the Cooperage, where the N-word is used repeatedly, not as an insult, just because that’s what people said in that era.

Is it fair to judge stories written around 1900, and republished in 1991, but today’s standards?

No, I don’t think it is. Any book is a historical document and to say you can’t read it leads quickly to book burning. These stories are of their time and my discomfort is a good thing. Most people (loons excepted) wouldn’t write something like this today. To be honest, things like Cooperage wouldn’t get published because it’s rubbish anyway. You could update it, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. Spoiler: A giant snake did it – see what I mean?

Conan Doyle was very keen on mystic and occult stuff and it shows here. Many of these tales intended to be told around the fire involve ghosts, the existence of which is never questioned. Holmes would have not been impressed.

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Why do authors need an editor?

Phil: A few weeks ago, I enjoyed some delicious home-made custard creams while listening to author Mike Gayle and his editor Nick Sayers courtesy of Kenilworth books.

With 15 books to his name, it was interesting to hear Mike explain what working with an editor entails, and why it is important. Despite being an editor myself, I’d never really understood the role played by someone with the same job title in fiction.

It turns out that the editor plays a big role in shaping and sharpening up the book. They read through and provide the fresh pair of eyes unavailable to a writer too close, and to invested in, the story.

The editor continually challenges the author. Do the characters work? Are there too many of them? Does the plot flag partway through? Does the thing even make sense?

All this after the publisher has shown enough interest in the manuscript to assign someone’s time to work on it.

Mike had worked with several editors in the past and credited all of them with improving his work. I can see how this relationship is important but also how easily it could break down if the suggestions were at odds with the original creative vision.

There’s a special skill in being the editor and managing a potentially fractious author. I did take the chance to ask exactly how things worked out if they disagreed. Sadly, neither would admit to an all-out fight (they both came across as really nice people) but I can imagine some egos getting in the way.  It must be especially frustrating being an editor if the writer keeps ignoring the advice offered.

For team NolanParker, I think we provide at least some of the editor services to each other. You’ll have read in past blog posts how we’ve disagreed with each other over plot points. It’s not always an easy situation, but we respect each other’s opinion enough to be able to get over this each time. After all, we both want our books to be the best they can.

 

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The holiday library

Phil: I’m on holiday at the moment in a self-catering apartment. It’s so nice here that this is the third time I’ve staying in the place, and all being well, not the last.

In the corner of the massive living room is a bookcase with a selection of paperbacks on the shelves. Last year, I started reading Moondust by Andrew Smith, but ran out of time to finish it before my departure.

As far as I am aware, there are no rules for the bookshelf, so I decided to take the book home with me and get to the end, before writing a review on here.

But, then I felt guilty. This is a terrific book, what if someone else wanted to read it?

You could argue it should go to a charity shop and continue on its travels. Many books have a life that starts in a “proper” bookshop and then continues through several hands before the covers fall off and they end up in recycling. To me the “who had this before?” question is part of the fun of buying second-hand books.

This time though, I felt that I really ought to bring the book back, and so it has sat in the reading pile for a year until I packed it in my suitcase and brought it “home”, coincidentally on the 50th anniversary of the moon landings it celebrates.

To make up for my transgression, I also added a copy of our books to the shelf. That’s not just me being nice, the dream is that some Hollywood A-lister will have the apartment next week, pick the copy up and shout, “Get me the authors, this is the greatest book I’ve ever read and I must option the story for a major film immediately!”

Well, you can dream can’t you.

Did I do the right thing though? What do you do when the day to go home arrives before the last page of the book?

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The grass isn’t always greener

Phil: Team NolanParker were chatting a few days ago, talking about work.

Like most people, we have the occasional “issue” with our jobs. I think it’s fair to say that no-one enjoys a job that is entirely trouble-free. Into every life, some rain must fall and when you get wet at work, there is some relief in getting things off your chest with a like-minded friend.

For example, you find yourself lunching in a pub on a sunny day. There is a fullsome gin menu and a large screen about to show the Wimbledon semi-finals. But, completely unreasonably, your boss will be under the impression that you should return to your desk instead of getting slowly blotto while watching sportsmen whacking a ball around and getting a suntan. Personally, I don’t like gin, but could see her point.

En-route to the pub I’ve been reading This is going to hurt by Adam Kay.

The book tells of his time as a Junior Doctor working in obstetrics and gynaecology. There are incredibly long hours, shift changes at a moments notice. Next to no home life, holidays interrupted, days off cancelled, bodily fluids spurting around the place, poor pay and a thousand other “issues”. All of which makes any complaints I have pale into insignificance. At many points, I wondered why he didn’t just chuck it in if someone in McDonalds was being paid better. 3/4 of the way through he explains that it’s the positive outcomes, the successes, the making a difference to someone’s life that keep people doctoring.

It is a cracking read, I’ve been racing through the book, picking it up at odd moments for a couple more pages – helped by the diary style which breaks the text up into short bites.

As Candice says, it’s easy to look at your current position and wish you were elsewhere (in this case, a pub with tennis) but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. To continue with the trite phrases, you can easily find yourself jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. All I know is I don’t fancy being a doctor. I might wield a scalpel occasionally, but the things I cut into don’t bleed, unless I get my own fingers through clumsiness.

One thing this book is good for though, contraception.

In stark contrast to a recent read which to make anyone feel broody, this one will have every woman pointing at her other half’s wedding tackle and saying, “You’re not bringing THAT thing anywhere near me again!”

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Nice work

Phil: When we go to literary events, I often feel that Candice and I aren’t really in the right place. The art establishment doesn’t really have a home for people who just want to write novels for readers on sunbeds.

Last year, we were given a copy of Nice Work by David Lodge and I decided it was time I got around to reading it.

The plot concerns university lecturer Robyn Penrose, who finds herself shadowing factory manager Vic Wilcox. They rub along, disagree and then have a brief fling. The plot is nicely summarised on Wikipedia.

My god, this book is pleased with itself. Witten in the third person, the text keeps showing how clever it is with little asides. To be honest, the print format put me off, and by the third chapter, it was heading for the charity pile. But, I persevered, in the world of Art, books are not there to be enjoyed, they are there to be good for you. A bit like broccoli.

By the end, I enjoyed it, but possibly not in the right way.

You see, I didn’t go to university and have a suspicion that many of the people there simply use further education as a way of avoiding the real world. Yes, there are many valuable courses and we can’t do without them, but I’ve met people who basically have never left school and boy can you tell.

Robyn Penrose is just such a person. She thinks that the most important thing in the world is obscure literary criticism. I’ve no issue with that, the problem I have is that she expects to be able to live in her ivory tower and have everyone else pay for it. Even as I write this, I know it sounds a bit Daily Mail, but when she visits Vic’s factory, it’s obvious that she doesn’t comprehend that those working in the hell-hole conditions are supporting her lovely way of life – just like the landed gentry expected the serfs to toil in the fields so they could lounge around doing nothing. At least they didn’t pretend they cared.

It might be that the author was satirizing this, Robyn and her partner do briefly discuss the idea, but I’m unconvinced. I think she is the hero, especially when we reach the deus ex machina ending with unexpected windfalls and bailing a recently redundant Vic out.

The point is, there is IMHO, nothing wrong with setting out just to entertain people. Life is rubbish enough without someone coming along and snootily laughing at your enjoyable choice of reading matter, and then expecting you to fork out for their luxury lifestyle.

Rant over.

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Rain stops reading

Remilia Scarlet - Rain

Candice: Phil’s written about abandoning a book in a recent blog, and then finding one that touches a cord.

I’ve had a similar issue myself recently.

The last few months have been a rollercoaster with a new job and things outside work throwing a few spanners in the works.  I’ve struggled to concentrate on books or TV shows as I’ve had so much going on in my head.  Walking to walk today in another bought of torrential rain hasn’t helped with the vibe. I realise I need a piece of complete escapism.

So far I’ve started and given up on – One Enchanted Evening by Anton du Beke.  Too light and fluffy, I can’t remember the character names and I’m not in the period ‘Downton’ mood.  Saving that one for the sun lounger

The Librarian of Auschwitz about Dita Kraus – an incredibility important subject but far too sad for me at present.  When they starting talking about sending families to the gas chambers I just can’t read any more.

One of the books both Phil and I have enjoyed recently is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, recommended to us by Liv from Writing West Midlands, a very quirky story of a random political initiative to bring salmon to a Wadi in the Yemen and based on the author’s experiences in industry and government.

The title would put me off straight away, but the story just reminds me of when I worked for Birmingham City Council. A politician would decide that the idea put in front of them was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that everything need to be done to drive this idea forward, without actually thinking the whole thing through.   There is a human side to the story too, it’s not all about fishing.  It is the most bizarre book, written from lots of different viewpoints, but yet it works and is quite amusing.  Don’t take my word for it, give it a go.

Anyway, I think I have finally found my book for my mood.  It’s called The Temptation of Gracie and tells the story of a woman returning to Italy, 40 years after she left, to return to her true love.  I’m still only one third through the book but I’m enjoying the vision of the beautiful flower-filled fields of Tuscany and the swarthy Italian men.  There is young love in the present and in the past and stories of hot, steamy days.  It’s exactly what I need to take me away from the constant UK rain.

In few weeks I’ll be able to escape to my next holiday and perhaps some of the books I’ve given up on I’ll give a second chance, it’s easier to focus on something when you have a longer time to read it.  I do try and read everything I buy as its good to broaden your horizons and read things other than Crime Fiction and Chick-Lit, but also sometimes it’s just good to just disappear.

Hopefully, the rain will stop soon too…

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Recognising yourself in a book

Phil: Working through the huge piles of books passed on to me from La Nolan earlier this year, I’ve just read Wilde About the Girl by Louise Pentland. Not a book I would have picked up myself, but I really enjoyed it.

The plot concerns a year in the life of Robin Wilde – single mother, makeup artist and generally, pretty much together woman. She’s got a useful collection of friends and relatives. Even the ex-husband isn’t written as a monster or complete incompetent. There is a new bloke on the horizon, but he’s not the main plot strand in that annoying way many chick-lit books seem to manage.

Instead, the focus of Robin’s like is her daughter Lyla. Well, that and work. I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like this – the child is the apple of her mother’s eye, but not the only thing in her life. It’s almost like the author managed to write about real life!

Now, I don’t have kids, but I’ve seen friends lives change as they sprogs arrive on the scene. Pentland doesn’t turn the child into a mobile nightmare, but actually makes you feel that spending time with the youngster is fun. If you aren’t broody before opening the cover, you might be by the end.

One aspect that rang true for me was when a new man came in to Auntie Kath’s life. Kath is the rock Robin relies upon and Lyla loves her. When Colin turns up, even though he makes widowed Kath happy, Layla hates him for replacing her late husband. Eventually, they are reconciled but it reminded me of myself.

When I was very young, we lost my Grandad. Even though we didn’t live close, apparently he and I were very close. A few years later my gran took in a lodger for the company and a little income. He was (as I recall) about the same age as my grandad would have been and apparently, I behaved terribly towards him, presumably thinking he was replacing my grandad (he wasn’t, he was just a lodger unlike Colin in this book). Like Robin, my parents had to find a way to reconcile us, they did it and we were fine after that. I was so young I don’t remember not liking him, but I could see what Lyla was going through.

The book is broken up into several sections, each of many chapters, and they all seem to contain an “incident”. One is terrible, but you wouldn’t know this from the cover or blurb. There, we find the stakes ramped up – unnecessarily in my opinion. This book nips along a decent pace, the characters are all pleasant to know and not too cartoony in most cases (OK, some of the school mums maybe) and there is a bit of pathos too. Colin could just be a cypher, but on a trip to the Lake District, we see into his soul a little, but only a little.

I think this is the middle volume in a Trilogy. To be honest, I don’t feel the need to read the others as this is such a strong standalone story, would they spoil it for me?

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