Tag Archives: Books

Middle England – These aren’t my people

A comedy for our times – The Guardian

Phil: I’m middle-class. I work in magazine publishing. The only manual labour I do involves making model trains. I have been down coal mines, but only at museums. Years ago, I could even follow the plot of The Archers.

It seems I’m not the right sort of middle class though.

Proper middle-class people earn mahoosive amounts of money doing jobs even more pointless than mine. They then spend their lives spending money without any visible means of financial support. Ideally, they will have made a killing in the London property market, sold up and bought a rather nice converted mill to live in somewhere less fashionable. They drink posh wine and eat the sort of nibbles that I’ve read about but would probably ignore in preference to sausage on a stick.

I really wanted to like Middle England. It’s set in the Midlands for a start. There are mentions of places I know like central Birmingham (the library is being built) and Solihull.

Sadly, the characters might occupy the same geography as me, but they live in another world.

Look, our book is set partly in central Solihull. All the characters have jobs. Jobs they do to earn money. We set it there because we didn’t want to set it in London and Solihull is a nice place. Nice enough for Kate anyway. She doesn’t want to jump into the pool that is London. Better be a big fish in a smaller pond than just another in the capital’s shoal. Besides, when she needs to go to the big city, there’s a perfectly good train service with at-seat coffee and WiFi, so she can have the best of both worlds.

Maybe the author lives in a rarified world of London journalists and politicians and so struggles to connect with the rest of us plebs. I’ve long been a fan of the idea that our capital needs to be hived off as a city-state, leaving the rest of us to do things our own way. It’s not that I don’t like London, far from it. It’s just that I know it’s very different from elsewhere, something the inhabitants don’t grasp much of the time.

Anyway, Middle England is supposed to be a satire on the newly formed coalition government (something we also satirise) but it’s not very subtle. A government adviser pops up every so often as a caricature who keeps changing his story without bothering about facts or the truth. I should be right in tune with all of this, yet I didn’t get it.

Talking of story – I couldn’t actually find a plot. There are lots of words, the pages seem slightly more densely printed than normal, but nothing actually happens. I didn’t get the feeling that we were on a journey anywhere. Mind you, I gave up 1/3rd of the way through. Even reading on a train, normally something that gets me into any book didn’t help. All I was left with were characters I didn’t care about.

A pertinent, entertaining study of a nation in crisis – Financial Times

Middle England is the novel about Brexit we need – Daily Telegraph

Insufferably smug – Phil Parker

 

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World Book Day … or is it?

index

Candice: I’ve been derelict in my duty this week.  I promised to write a blog about World Book Day and then failed miserably to do it for the day or the day after.

Phil was the instigator of the idea, obviously thinking that there would be loads of child outfit picking fodder in the concept.  However, due to the fact my daughter’s school just asks you to bring a book along I get out of all that faff.  To let you know this year’s choice was ‘The Little Mermaid’ – as it has been for about the last four years. #easy

I don’t know if it was the topic or the time this week (I’ve been busy and quite tired, I’ve not made it through any 9pm programme) but I just wasn’t feeling it.  Coronavirus has also taken up my thinking time, to holiday or not to holiday.

He’s even politely hassled me about it.  And I’ve still failed miserably.

But to get my own back I have managed to top up Book 3 with an extra 1000 words.  So nur to you Phil.  I suppose that was where my inspiration lay and last night at 10pm I was finishing off something from earlier in the week in the book, not writing this blog.

I have to say we’ve both struggled to get into Book 3. That’s not to say it’s not a good book, when I opened it up the other day I was again excited by the story, but we’ve got some good set pieces we just don’t know how to bring them together.

However, a break, and avoiding writing about World Book Day seems to have done the trick and I’m off to add a few hundred more this afternoon.

Inspiration = Found

 

 

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Killer blurb

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other..

Phil: When I read this on the back of My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite while browsing the new books shelf of my local library, it did its job, grabbing me enough I wanted to read the story. With three books in my hand, I left it but came back a couple of weeks later and searched for it on the shelves.

Set in Lagos, it tells the story of Korede who keeps having the clean up when her sister murders her latest boyfriend.

As a nurse with a cleaning compulsion, she’s ideally placed to help, but when the sister hooks up with a doctor Korede facies herself, things get complicated. She can’t tell anyone about this except a patient in a coma.

Through the story, we learn some backs-story about the girls’ abusive father and his death (not their fault, but they were present) and this might give an insight into Ayoola’s behaviour. That, and she’s a little princess who’s never heard the word “no”.

The book has won awards, but I wonder if this is down to a metropolitan art crowd being excited by a book set firmly in Nigeria and making good use of the rules and traditions of that country. You are immersed in a way no non-native could ever do and some of the characters’ behaviours are appalling by Western standards. If you think the British class system is bad, the Nigerian one is far worse. It troubled me that the “house girl” never seems to warrant a name, nor any consideration for her constant servitude by the main characters for example.

I’m not sure the story every really gets going despite two deaths and a third close-call. The coma patient wakes up and remembers some of the stuff he has been told, but nothing happens with this.

The premise is really strong, possibly stronger than the book itself. Having said that, the setting fascinated me and I’m tempted to look up many of the foods mentioned. Maybe this is the best part – I was really taken to a new world, and that’s what reading should be about.

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The value of an editor

Phil: I’m still working on the edits I mentioned last week.

Most evenings, after watching Space 1999, I settle down for an hour of approving, or not, corrections to our text.

The vast majority are punctuation. Spotting the red edit text and then zapping it with a right click of my mouse is an interesting game which demands pinpoint accuracy. Watching the little bars on the right-hand side getting smaller and then vanishing is satisfying. Once they are gone, I’ve got all the changes.

There’s a bit of text shuffling and tightening too. I don’t always agree to these changes, there are a (very) few occasions when I prefer our style and since it’s subjective, I let us win. Mostly, to be fair, the excellent Catherine is right and the story flows better for her efforts.

We’ve a few plot points to deal with, and I’ve sorted out a slot in the busy Nolan festive diary for us to go through these. I think she’s doing overtime in Santa’s workshop or something as shes very busy.

A few times though, I’ve read the text and thought, “How the heck did we let that one get through?” or even “How the heck did we write that in the first place?” Frustrating, but now these boo-boos are getting sorted.

The whole process is a bit like having your work marked by a teacher. I suspect everyone hopes their text is perfect, and no-ones ever is, but I can’t help feeling that “Must try harder” could be written at the bottom of this. I’m sure we were slicker when Kate vs the Navy was proofed.

What I do see is how all the work is making a better book. When you start to write, people go on about the importance of an editor, but it’s a bill no-one wants to think about if they are honest. The more I look at the plot tweaks and inconsistences picked up, I know we’ve spent our money well. Yes, we should have got most of them ourselves, and many people won’t spot the changes, but every one makes our story a more enjoyable read. Talking of which, I end up reading it too and it’s still a good story.

Anyway, I’ll continue plugging away. I’ve another part of the routine – claiming the days chocolate from my advent calendar only when I’ve done my homework. Everyone needs some motivation!

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Demon Seed – so good he wrote it twice?

Phil: An odd one this. Heading into my local library in search of something to read, I spotted a book called Demon Seed on the shelf.

I knew of the film and decided to give the original version a go.

Or did I?

In the first chapter, there is mention of both the Internet and the World Wide Web. “Hold on”, I think, “I’m pretty sure the film was made back in the 1970s. How come we have talk of things not developed until the late 1990s?”

The plot revolves around a sentient computer program, so some sort of moving around the world’s networks is fine, but I’m pretty sure that neither term was in common us back then.

To Wikipedia, I head and I’m right about the film, it was released in 1977. Assuming the book predates the film then how does the author know about the web?

Well, a little more digging and it turns out that Dean Koontz has written the book twice. Once in 1973 and again in 1997.

All is explained at the end of the novel. Koontz simply says he didn’t think the original was very good so decided to have another crack at it. This allowed him to add in all those future references to computing technology.

I wonder how he pitched it to the publisher though. “You remember that great book I wrote years ago? I’d like to do it again and see if people buy another copy to find out what I’ve changed.”

Is it a brave move to decided that the story you are best known for isn’t good enough, or a cynical one to cash in?

I suppose I ought to say whether I enjoyed the book. Not much. All the talk of the computer controlling Susan, the main character, made me very uncomfortable. There’s also a fairly graphic murder of an innocent man as well as passing mention of several others. Not my thing at all, but then we’ve mentioned I’m a bit of a wuss about these things in the past.

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Giant vegetable news: Life follows art.

The pièce de résistance, though, was a costume he had borrowed from the local amateur dramatics society. Many years ago they had presented a series of plays to local schools promoting a healthy eating message and for part of this the cast dressed as fruit and vegetables. Thanks to their attempts at tackling obesity, the roof of Oswythal House was surmounted by a giant cabbage waving a bed sheet covered in brown marks.Kate vs The Dirtboffins.

Phil: Our book opens with a protestor dressed as a giant cabbage being thrown from the top of a building. (Spoiler alert, he’s fine).

I thought it would be a funny idea, after all, cabbages are amusing, aren’t they? You certainly don’t want to eat them, or at least I don’t.

Last week, what do I see on the news? A man dressed as a giant stick of broccoli for a protest!

 

Oy! Get your own ideas!

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The Guilty Party by Mel McGrath

The Guilty Party: Dive into a dark, gripping and shocking psychological thriller from bestselling author Mel McGrath by [McGrath, Mel]

Candice : I bought a collection of books from Sainsburys before jetting off to a lovely holiday to Majorca earlier in the summer.

As it always the way, and what happens when you buy books from a supermarket, the selection was limited to chic lit or crime drama.  I picked this one up because it looked a little different.

The premise is built around four friends who meet at university and then stay connected over the next ten years. Their lives change – one gets married and has a child, one comes out as gay, one becomes wildly successful as a business man, and one gets left behind.  But they have something that ties them all together, they are all serially unfaithful to their partners and keep a record of their relationships by photographing their conquests naked and posting pictures on a shared ‘black book’.  Their appetite for competition and  being sexual predators drives them to stay in touch even though, by the time we enter their lives, they don’t seem to really like or trust each other.

The story is held together with a central premise; they have all been to a festival and on their way home a fight breaks out, in the ensuing melee they see a girl being raped.  The next day she turns up dead, drowned in the Thames.

Meeting a month later one of the party is unsure that the story she has been spun by her friends about the rape is the truth, she wants to tell the police what she has seen but they are reluctant to spill the beans. Why, she is doesn’t know but as the weekend in a remote house unravels it seems that each member of the party had more to do with the deceased than it first seems, and each has something to hide which informing the police would expose.

The book is hard to read as it flits between the view points of each of the four characters, and both past and present, so you struggle to keep up with what is going on unless you read it in long stretches.  It also struggles with empathy, as each character is exposed as someone is isn’t that likeable; the play each one off against the other, and don’t seem to care about anyone else but themselves.

Many years ago I read ‘Gone Girl’ and felt a similar way about that book. I read it to the finish as I wanted to know what happened with the characters, but I didn’t really like any of them or care that much what happened to them.  This seems to becoming a more prevalent style of writing, both in novels and TV shows, where every character is so flawed you don’t particularly want to root for them.  I recently watched ‘The Affair’ and felt this too.  It probably gives a truer version of the world, but I’m not sure I want to see it.  I want escapism not nasty reality.  I can watch the news for that.  I’ve got no doubt however that this book will get optioned soon as it seem to fit with what TV and film producers are looking for these days.  I don’t think I will be watching.

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