Tag Archives: characters

Cheers for breakfast

Cheerslogo

Phil: Since I don’t have a small child to get ready for school in the morning, if I’m so minded, I can take my time and linger a bit over my bowl of breakfast cereal. It’s a great time to catch up on some magazine reading, and since I prefer to work later, I don’t see any panic to be sat in front of a computer terribly early.

In the past, this would be accompanied by BBC Breakfast News. I suppose it’s useful to catch up on the various happenings in the world, but if I’m honest, knowing the weather forecast is probably more practical.

But, with Brexit, all this stopped. Yes, I might catch the weather and local news, but the rest of the time the airwaves were filled with people shouting at each other. And just as Brexit leaves the stage, along comes Covid, and the news editors decided our mornings should start with a blast of ratings-gathering doom and gloom.Even as this recedes in interest, we’re treated to more disaster with (currently) empty shelves, price rises, lack of power etc.

Enough!

For a very long while, there has been no TV. Telly snobs will say this is a good thing, but I grew up with the magic box and get just as annoyed with those who boast about not watching it, as I do with those who devote their entire lives, and a complete wall in their lounge, to the screen.

Idly flicking through the channels on a very relaxed morning, I found that I could watch the 1980s American sitcom Cheers with my cereal.

Set in a Boston bar, the show features a pretty static line-up of characters, very few of whom can be described as high-flyers (OK, Fraiser, but the rest). It’s warm. It’s cosy. As the theme song goes:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name

And they are right. We all want to find our little community, where we fit in and the rest are pleased to see us.

Of course, the other reason I enjoy watching the show over breakfast is it seems so deliciously naughty to do so. Grown-ups are supposed to want to know what is in the news, even if there is nothing we can do about it. Cheers, and other shows are for the evening.

Side-stepping the expected norm feels a bit like bunking off school, or deliberately taking a longer lunch at work when you know you’ll probably get away with it. Naughty, but in a safe way.

Best of all, the warm and fuzzy accompaniment to y Fruit’n’fibre probably puts me in a better frame of mind to face the day. Or reminds me that I might be happier sat on a bar stool, drinking beer, and watching the world go by.

As the theme goes, “Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot“.

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Summer on a Sunny Island – Sue Moorcroft

Summer on a Sunny Island: The uplifting new summer read from the Sunday Times bestseller, guaranteed to make you smile! by [Sue Moorcroft]

Candice: I have to admit I have been rubbish at writing blog posts recently. I have a lot on my mind and it means I get to the end of Wednesday and go – oh bum I’ve forgotten to write my blog post! Phil is very good at not reminding me(telling me off) about it.

But in the middle of all of this I have been reading. Its a great escape from anything that is going on around me.

As part of my trips to the Library I have been exploring other books that I might not have found in the supermarket, and this was one in the ‘quick reads’. Summer on a Sunny Island caught my eye as it was all about holidays – something that I am missing at the moment.

The premise is around Rosa, who splits from her long term boyfriend and decamps to Malta for the summer. She is lucky enough that her mom, a professional chef, grew up there and they can spend the summer crafting her new cookery book while Rosa decides what to do next.

Living upstairs from Rosa and her Mom is Zach, hard working but with a background of getting in trouble, leaving him estranged from his family, particularly his disapproving dad.

With a number of stories crossing over within the book its runs along nicely.

Zach takes a local boy who is getting into trouble under his wing, causing drama.

Dory, Rosa’s mom falls in love, and this causes issues with her ex-husband.

Rosa’s ex-boyfriend causes Rosa all kind of turmoil as his messes her about over their split. This impacts on her trying to decide what she really wants to do with her life.

Zach’s family come back together, and drama ensues with his sisters and his parents.

But the underlying story is that of Zach and Rosa. Its the classic ‘will they wont they’ as they go on not dates, fall out, get confused messages but eventually fall in love. But its nicely done. All the other story lines make for an interesting read and the background of sunny Malta add to the charm.

I enjoyed the thoughts of relaxing a sunlounger or swimming in the sea, even though it will be awhile until I get to do that. So you want a break from home working this is a perfect light read.

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Writing with Marian Keyes

Phil: We’re missing literary events. The chance to spend time in a room listening to someone talking about the writing process with the added bonus of being able to ask questions.

Luckily, the web has come to our rescue in these locked down times. Candice spotted that Marion Keyes was running a series of talks on Instagram, and we tuned in for an hour to enjoy the chat.

This week, she talked about many topics including timelines – the importance of which she emphasised. While you don’t need to write one at the start of a book, you will need to create it at some point to keep the story going.

Exactly what appears on the timeline matters too. In one book, she included a lot about the Trump election. Her publisher asked for this to be removed as it would “date the book” quickly. Not a fan of the orange one, Marion happily complied. I’m not so sure about this. If a book is set in a particular period in time, surely you mention the news to fix it at this point?

Anyway, it’s all very relaxed, just someone sitting on a sofa chatting and answering some questions thrown in by the audience of 1598 people also tuning in.

If you’d like to catch up, the videos head over to her YouTube channel:

Week 1. Plot and point of view, software and word count.

Week 2. The Fear! Your voice. Characterisation.

Week 3. Timelines, pacing, and sex.

This sort of thing is great. Maybe it will help us find our mojo.

 

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Lock-down reading

Phil: The Parker book pile was getting thin a few weeks ago. Somehow Divorced and Deadly ended up in it. Spying “Fast-paced and fun-packed” on the cover, I gave it a try.

The “story” follows the post-divorce life of Ben. He establishes himself as a narcissist almost immediately – the divorce came about when his wife caught him in bed with another woman, something he thought was “a bit of fun”.

Moving back in with his parents, including murderously crazy mother, he quickly moves out again to a flat with his best mate, Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants. Yes, that’s his name, and it’s repeated many, many times through the book. A joke that doesn’t get wearing at all…

Apparently, the book is based on a series of real stories that appeared on the author’s blog. It’s written in a diary-style with a series of incidents rather than a traditional narrative.

The result is a bit like a traditional British farce. Unbelievable situations escalate quickly and preposterously. Trousers fall down. Arses are exposed.

None of the characters make much sense. Some of them, such as his ex-wife who seems to devote her life to following him around and hiding in bushes (yes, really) don’t sound very grounded in reality. I’m not even sure why she’s in the book as nothing much happens with her unless you consider a “hilarious” hosepipe squirting incident.

I nearly gave up on this in less than a chapter, but with few other options, I stuck with it. To be fair, it is fast-paced but when you can’t connect with a single character, it’s a little difficult to care.

One for the charity shop book pile rather than the shelf of your library at home. Thank goodness a recent meet-up with the Nolan restocked my shelves!

(In case you think I’m being harsh, once I wrote this, I checked the reviews. Oh dear.)

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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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Where do character names come from? Is that me?

Phil: Where do the names of your characters come from?

I was idly flicking through Jack the Station Cat and the Snail Trail recently, when I spotted that one of the characters was Mr Parker.

That’s odd, I thought. Could that be me?

I’m not sure when author Alan Cliff wrote this book, but we have corresponded by e-mail a while ago on one of his non-fiction books. Maybe he was searching for names and our chat inspired him to pluck mine out of mid-air.

I suppose I could ask, but I think I’ll just stick with the warm feeling that it might be me.

 

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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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Cunning idea – The newbie

lonely lake/office chair, prescott, AZPhil: My writing other half started a new job this week. We met up in her last week of “freedom” and among other things chatted about the joys of being new at work.

This gave me an idea. Not one I can use at present, so I chuck it out there.

Writing from the point of view of the new person anywhere would provide an excellent vehicle for explaining a location to a reader.

Think about it – the reader is also new to the job/location, so everything going through the newbie’s head is the same as that in the reader’s mind.

OK, perhaps they don’t have the same “Where’re the toilets?” anxiety, but new people, a strange office to navigate around, unusual rituals at break times (does everyone go to lunch together?) and a thousand other questions need answers. There’s also the whole cliquiness of workmates to consider – who gets on with who?

The more I think about this, the more I remember why I hate changing jobs!

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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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Read what you don’t know

Hot MessPhil: Authors are told, “Write what you know”, but my latest read is the complete opposite.

I couldn’t be less like Ellie Knight from the book Hot Mess if I tried – and I think that’s a good thing. At least it’s a break from my “normal” life, which I think is pretty much the point of reading.

Ellie is newly single and spends most of the book looking for lurve, or at least shagging her way through Tinder…

You guessed this from the cover, didn’t you? It’s pink. There is a shoe. The writing is a sort of scripty font. This is proper chick-lit. And of course, I didn’t buy it, or dare read it outside the house.

It’s quite fun. For a long while, you are wondering if there is actually a plot, but eventually, things start to tie up and by the end, you feel you’ve been on a journey with the character and had a laugh along the way.

Apparently, London is full of girls for whom this is a documentary, but as I say, that’s not me.

By the end though, there was something annoying me.

The story is told from Ellie’s point of view – but she doesn’t tell us everything. Several times events take place where you would have expected us to know what’s going on, but she “remembers” to tell us a bit of back story all of a sudden. Maybe it’s me, but I felt a little short-changed especially at the end when everything gets tied up.

Don’t get me wrong, this was an enjoyable, and for me, eduactional, read. Perfect for the side of a pool where everyone else is the colour of the cover.

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