Tag Archives: characters

One Enchanted Evening

Phil: It’s been mentioned on this blog more than once that celebrity authors wind me up.

I don’t mean authors who are famous for writing, but famous people who suddenly decide to put out a book. The publishers know that all it takes is said famous moniker in embossed letters across the cover and sales will be a dead cert. Even if the “name” doesn’t sell the book on its own, they will be an easy booking for chat shows and into Sunday supplements in the newspapers.

A deal is done, handsome advance paid and off they go.

If you think this is because I am jealous, you’d be dead right. It’s almost arguable that the only way to get a bestseller out nowadays is to be famous for something else and then develop a sideline in writing. Or get someone else to develop it for you.

So, how did I feel when I saw this book from Strictly Come Dancing prancer Anton du Beke hit my reading pile via my Mum and Sainsburys?

I mean come on, he’s the dancer with “personality”. The one normally lumbered with the joke contestant. He did a show about jumping through polystyrene walls.

All of which meant I came to the book willow expectations. To be honest, I was hoping for a “so bad it’s good” moment.

Annoyingly, it’s actually (grits teeth) not bad. Quite readable in fact.

OK, the plot revolves around the Grand Ballroom of the Buckingham hotel in London. The main character is the lead show dancer. You aren’t going to be surprised by this.

But, it’s 1936. The drums of war are starting to play. Oswald Mosely and the Mitford sisters are on the scene. Plenty of people quite like that nice Mr Hitler over in Germany, not least the King and Mrs Simpson. It was the era when Viscount Rothermere was happy to write his infamous piece with the headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” in both the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. There are riots in the East End where the police stand by as fascists try to force out the Jewish population.

The Buckingham is in the middle of this with many of the Nazi-fetishising upper classes meeting there.

It’s also a world of two halves – upstairs and downstairs. Dancer Raymond de Guise straddles both worlds. He comes from one, but has to fit into the other.

This is not the sort of topic you’d expect from the author. Yes, the glitz and dance stuff (he does bang on about this a bit) but the gritty bits? That was a surprise.

It’s a fat book but an involving read. Getting going through the first couple of chapters took effort but once you are, this is a page-turner. In the sense of a good, entertaining read.

The only problem – I’m sure Mr de Guise is supposed to be not unlike Mr du Beke. But the moment I read about his curly, black hair, every time he popped into my mind, all I could see was the man from the Go Compare advert and I’m sure that wasn’t supposed to happen!

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Having the faith to put yourself in the book

Phil: Last week, I wrote that I felt the need for a nice, readable story and thanks to my local library had picked up A Brush With Death by Ali Carter.

I’m pleased to say it ticked the boxes perfectly. A pleasant read with a reasonably easy to follow plot that fitted my day. Doing a little digging, apparently this fits into the “Cozy Crime” genre. Think Miss Marple with a little less bite.

The plot is simple enough, Lord of the Manor dies, the police decide it’s murder and artist Susie Mahl solves the crime. I guessed whodunit pretty early in the book, but this didn’t spoil things – in fact I wanted to see if I was right. I was, although the method I had settled on wasn’t quite correct.

There are a couple of areas where the book stands out.

First, we learn a great deal about the English upper classes. If I ever find myself called to stay for the weekend at a great country house, I will have a better understanding of the protocol thanks to this book. We learn that all houses tend to run to a timetable, and once you know this, you can plan your trips snooping around. Stick to the rules, including not marrying anyone beneath your station, and everyone will get along swimmingly.

My main fascination was with the lead character, Susie Mahl, herself. She’s an artist who has found painting dog portraits to be a lucrative job. Handily, it sees her invited to many country seats for the weekend, you need to get to know the pooch to render them in paint. Apparently, this pays enough to buy a house in Sussex and a lot of very expensive luxury underwear. This detail is covered repeatedly.

Why? Because art follows life. It turns out that Ali Carter paints pet portraits and likes luxury underwear.

The most unusual aspect of Susie though is that she is a fairly strict catholic. At one point she goes to mass and also hints at disproval of divorce. Religion plays very little part in British novels, in fact I can’t think of a character who has expressed any interest in this direction. OK, we have Bother Cadfael and Father Brown, but they are monk and priest respectivly – it’s a massive part of their character. What I mean is we rarely see religion being part of a “normal” person’s life in this way.

It’s odd that this should leap out at me. In America and many other parts of the world, religion is a massive part of many people’s lives. You very much wear it on your sleeve. Politically, following the right flavour of God can be more important in the decisions a voter makes than a candidates policies or behaviour. Despite this, I don’t reacall many modern day American novels showing the impact of belief on their character.

My guess is that this is another area where author and character cross over. The interview I linked to above mentions a post-accident pilgrimage, but never explicitly mentions this being a religious one. That’s simply not how we do stuff in Britian. The Church of England is as inoffensive as possible and rarely do we have the zealots found in other branches of faith.

Ultimatly, “Write what you know” is an oft trotted out maxim, and one Ali Carter appears to have taken to heart, with interesting results. Susie Mahl is a stand-out character and will easily carry the three-novel deal Ms Carter has landed. She’d probably make a good TV drama too, something for the Sunday evening wind-down slot on BBC 1. However, I wonder if her faith will make the transition to the screen?

 

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Mystery on a postcard

Phil: I recently bought an old postcard for the picture on the front. The postmark is 16th December 1906 and on the back, in tiny, neat handwriting is the following message:

Dear Kittie.

I received your letter last Wednesday, but you only told us half a tale, you didn’t say what time you would get here, nor how you are coming, nor how long you are going to stay.

Write to Annie and tell her or else she is going to give you a good blowing up when you come.

Am going there for Xmas Day as you are coming. Shant we be a happy family. Don’t disappoint us or it will be the worse for you. 

Annie is as busy as a bee getting cleaned up ready for you.

Well ta ta and don’t forget to write to her.

Love from Nancie

Is it a blacksmith or carpenter in the picture?

Who is Kittie?

How could she disappoint everyone at Christmas and how would it be worse for her?

Annie is presumably a relative who will be hosting the “happy family” over the festive period, but it sounds like Kittie isn’t very good at keeping in touch. Perhaps she’s the sort of gel who likes to swan in an out expecting everyone to drop whatever they are doing to attend to her needs.

All in all, a bit of a mystery. Even the question about the picture contains a puzzle – the postcard is a photo from a glen in the Isle of Man, so the picture must refer to something in a previous communication.

You could write a story based entirely around this card. Kittie and Nancie would be sisters in the early part of the 20th Century. Kittie (I see her as the flighty one) has moved to London where she is drinking in disreputable jazz clubs and dancing with men. Scandalous! Nancie stayed at home somewhere in Kent with no more ambition than to marry her sweetheart and have children.

Their father is kind, but doesn’t really approve of what his younger daughter is doing in the capital and insists that she comes home occasionally to placate her mother. When she does, there is the local squire’s son who pursues her but initially she isn’t interested. He follows her back to London and she realises the mistake she is making, possibly when he saves her from some cad who doesn’t have her best interests at heart.

The moral for authors is – if you need a story, look through old postcards. There’s plenty of human interest there!

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Going where no man has gone before

You were recently selected as a potential candidate for P.O.W.E.R. (Professional Organization of Women of Excellence Recognized).
Our organization provides a powerful network of women who will mentor, inspire and empower each other to be the best they can be. Women understand the need to connect with other like-minded professionals and the importance of added exposure.

Phil: I’ve been receiving this e-mail twice a week for at least a month. I’m not sure what their vetting procedure is, but I’m thinking that it falls at the first hurdle. Unless you consider the first hurdle to be, “Has an e-mail address” rather than gender.

While I’m happy to mentor, inspire and empower people, although “each other” sounds a bit like a cult, or an orgy, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be allowed in the door. A quick look at the website suggests that door would be in America anyway. The woman fronting the video on the home page looks a bit scary too.

While they have been busy spamming me, I’ve actually had women’s groups on my mind. At our last planning session, we decided it would be a good idea to send Kate, or lead character, to a local women’s networking group. It brings her into contact with people who can be both useful and entertainingly anoying. She has an ulterior motive, but the result isn’t quite the one she hoped for – but ultimately IS good for her. I’ll say no more or SPOILERS!

It’s a good example of how Team NolanParker works. After chatting with Candice, who has been to groups like this, I wrote the first few pages of story. They were OK, but I wasn’t really feeling it.

My words went over to the Noaln and a couple of days later came back much expanded. And improved.

I’d laid the foundations, which freed her to add all the good bits. Maybe the words needed a woman’s touch, or maybe I provided enough inspiration to get her creative juices flowing. Whatever, it worked.

I have been the only man working in an office-full of women, but I am not (despite what the P.O.W.E.R. network thinks) a woman and can’t always get into the right mind. That’s why writing as a pair works so well, I don’t know how anyone does it on their own.

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Boozing our way through the difficult third novel

Phil: Book 3 is proving tricky. We need our main character to go through a significant change during the story and it’s all going to be quite emotional.  To this end, we’ve not involved her much in the comedy strand, which has progressed quite nicely without her.

The trouble with this is, that we now need to work out her path through the book, and try not to make it either miserable, or unrealistic. There will be no lightbulb moments that aren’t the result of a bit of personal growth. Readers are not to think, “where did that come from?” when Big Moments happen.

So, we meet up in Ikea’s cafe. Not our normal place of “work” but someone needed storage boxes, and it’s not a long way out for me. In fact, on the way I managed to find an interesting shop and was involved in a chat about 3D printers when the “I’m in the cafe” text arrived instructing me to attend.

I had had the foresight to arrive by bus and so when choosing lunchtime supplies, realised that a little alcohol to grease the creative brain cells wasn’t out of the question. To whit, I grabbed a can of Cider Apple and some meatball based food. 0.1% ABV – no slouch me, a couple of these and I’d be outside shouting at pigeons!

After a bit of chat, we felt that it was time to move on. Most of Coventry had decided to bring their children in for the day to add a flourish to the end of the school holidays. That meant the normally tranquil restaurant was transformed into a scene of mayhem, not conducive to producing great works of literature.

Next stop – a pub. We do good work in pubs, but of course, you must have a drink.

My first thought had been tea, but when Miss Prim and Proper ordered lemonade, I changed my order to a shandy.

And it worked. We both feel this book is hard going. There are loads of scenes written, but the love story, apparently so easy on initial inspection, has turned out to be more complicated than we thought.

After an hour or so of debate and pondering, we are pretty certain we’ve nailed it. Some of the work we’ve done needs to be moved in the timeline, a few bits go in the bin. No matter, the plotlines are basically mapped out and they seem to make sense. Candice has written the bare bones of a pivotal scene and sent it to me for added comedy and fiddling.

We are on our way! Now, where did that traffic cone come from?

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Throwing a spanner in the works

 

Phil: I know I am a writer, because sometimes I get an idea in my head and it bounces around my tiny brain until I’ve written it down. It’s almost like I’m pouring the words out of my ear.

Last week, we met up for a planning session, Candice produced a timeline in different colours to help our thinking and in my mind, our discussions had started an idea forming.

My work is a bit stupid busy sometimes, but I have managed to find a semi-regular writing slot late on a Thursday evening, so I sat at my laptop and started typing. A couple of hours later, the scene was complete and unexpectedly, had turned out to be rather more pivotal to the overall story than I’d expected. I tend to just write and let the plot flow. Editing is for later, first, the words have to head to the other half of the team for approval.

It’s a slightly nervous wait for each of us as the other is reading. We both want a “Well done” but are happy to take criticism – from each other at least. I was confident though, this was good stuff.

The response, “Hum. You’ve thrown a spanner in my works.”

Oh.

“But I like this and it’s not in the timeline.”

I scramble to find the timeline and look through. When I came up with the idea, I thought I knew where it fitted.  Sadly, it didn’t quite slot in as I’d hoped, a bit like an annoying jigsaw piece that you are sure should go in one of the remaining holes, but stubbornly won’t go in no matter how hard you push.

Never mind, I’m not precious about it. I just needed to stop the idea bouncing off the insides of my head. We exchanged a few more e-mails looking at the plan and finally, I opened one to read,

“Hang on I think I’ve got it…”

Result! With a little bit of re-working, this idea does move the story forward. It isn’t going to slot in quite where I thought it would, but like the jigsaw, if you attach it to the big pile of pieces already assembled, it helps complete the picture.

I’m pleased with the result, after a bit of worry, my new words are an excellent fit for a major turning point 2/3rds of the way through the book. They galvanize our heroine and stir her into action. An action that will culminate in the love story reaching the place we planned it to be by the end of the book and blasting through a couple of major impediments along the way (can you tell how hard I’m trying to avoid spoilers?).

Writing as a team isn’t always plain sailing, but working this way brings a dynamic to the early stages I don’t think you find plodding away on your own. Knowing that someone else who cares about the book as much as I do is about the comment keeps me on my toes!

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Yin and Yang

Image result for post it notes on a tableCandice: Phil wanted me to write about our trip to the Writing West Midlands event, which I will do, but actually I thought it would be good to comment on our meet to discuss Book 3 on Friday.

People always ask us how we write as a partnership, who does what, and how it works.  To be honest, it’s like being in a working relationship with anyone, some are better at some bits than others.  I’m more ‘task’ focused and Phil can be more ideas.  We are each others ‘Yin’ and ‘Yang’. I can be as creative as you like when the need takes me but I had limited time on Friday for discussions so wanted to get our timeline sorted.  Why was the timeline so important?  Well, we had reached that point, 35k words in, that we’d written lots of sections that tailed off at the end because we kept asking the question ‘what happens next?’.

Everything, whether book or work project has a beginning, middle and end.  There are probably ups and downs before you get there but without knowing your end goal then you won’t be able to achieve it through these bumps.  Writing is the same, if you don’t know where your characters end up, all the lovely set pieces and plotting come to squat as you end up writing something that doesn’t make sense.

Part of the other problem with Phil and I is we like a chat.  He talked about his holiday, I talked about mine and the next thing we knew an hour was gone.  Then he starting firing storyline ideas at me.  I had to put my hand up and say ‘STOP’.  The ideas might all be great but we need the timeline.

The other thing you need to make sure you can deliver on your project is the right tools.  I hadn’t ga ot pen or paper so off I walked to WHSmiths and bought post-it notes and coloured pens and then we were ready.

The first job was to write out what we’d already written and put it in the correct order (as in the book it’s not linear).  And then work out the gaps.  Time was ticking and it became like a game of ‘Countdown’ – we’ve got two minutes how do we solve it.

In the end, we only built the comedy storyline, the love one still needs work, but that means that a few more thousand words can be written; and a few other ideas were bounced around.

Tea drunk and off home I went, feeling satisfied with our activity.  Now I just need the time to write 🙂

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