Tag Archives: chocolate

Too much chocolate not enough writing?

Easter the @KerrangRadio way.#foofighters @Practical_Phil http://twitter.yfrog.com/ess6upznj

Candice: Phil and I got together on Friday for a writing session.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to go as we haven’t done this on “the book” for a while as we have been ignoring it.  Why?  Too frightened to start again and not sure how it would go.

Anyway, Phil turned up a present for me – a Foo Fighters‘ egg.  Well, not exactly, its more like the only time that OneD and the Foo’s are likely to be in a mash up. Made me smile though.

Anyway, after an hour of catch up I said ‘work time!’ off we went to our respective corners.  I was upstairs keeping an eye on the cat while on the big computer.

Well after some surfing I pulled up the words and had a go.  And out it came.  All the ideas I’d had floating around in my head for the last year.  And new first chapter took shape.  An hour later I gave it Phil to read and we were well on our way.

However, then things sort of fell apart as we rehashed all our ideas over food and then went to Fallen Angel for a final celebratory cupcake.

I was in a very single track mind on Friday and wanted to get something done.  But I’m not sure we’d done enough to deserve the cake.

But I spent Saturday and Sunday beating myself up for not doing enough, and then have come back today to update Chap 2.  What I can say is what came out is pretty good.  I think we might have cracked it in making our story more punchy.  I’ve been ruthless with the pruning so its now much slicker.

Plan – 1 lunch break a week for running and 1 for writing.  And when I say writing I mean book writing not just the short stories.  We’ll see….

1 Comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

Ode to a teacake

Horace Broon lookalike Phil: It’s Burn’s night and this occasion you are supposed to address the haggis with a bit of poetry from the man himself. However, I wondered if instead of talking about a bag of offal, delicious though it is in fried form, he was actually writing about Scotland’s greatest export – The Tunocks Teacake.

Scots people, look away now:

Address To A TeacakeDelicious Tunnocks Teacake

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the biscuit-tin!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Rich tea, hob-nob, or garibaldi:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Let us hope that Alex Salmond and his hoardes,
Does ne ban your export sales,
Or this sassenach
Weel be vaulting o’er Hadrians Wall.

or to put it another way, as that great Australian Mel McGibbson said, “They can take our lives, but they can never take our Tunnocks !”


Filed under Phil

You don’t deserve books

Phil: I was going to base this post on the article in the Observer bemoaning the death of chick-lit. The premise is interesting and since we’ve written a novel that might be in this category, I ought to be really concerned that the market for the genre has dipped by 10%.

But then I read the comments. There I discover that Phud defines chick-lit as “Shoes, shopping and shagging. Turgid, whimsical bollocks written by middle-class, middlebrow, wine-sipping chocoholics.”

This has me worried. Am I a middlebrow, wine-sipping chocoholic ? If I am, should I care ?

Let’s start from the top. I am middle-class, in fact both of us are. There are a lot less working-class people in the UK than there are people who claim to be. If you are sitting in an office and sipping a coffee that didn’t come out of a jar marked instant, then you can stop pretending to be one with those toiling at the coal face or labouring in an ironworks.

Middelbrow ? I had to look this up since a brow in the middle of your face is probably a mustache. According to Wikipedia, the term middlebrow describes both a certain type of easily accessible art. Is this a bad thing ?

Wine-sipping. Not me. I don’t understand the stuff. Give me proper British beer. I won’t be mentioning Candice’s drinking habits, but if anyone else wants to in the comments…

Finally, chocoholic. Not me. Never touch the stuff. Honest.

So we probably are everything Phud hates.

Actually, if I want that sort of odium, then the Guardian/Observer message boards are the place to go, in the mainstream anyway. Left wingers are often portrayed as humorless miseries and a very small number of them do their best to fit the caricature. You can’t simply enjoy something, the pleasure has to be earned. It’s a bit opus dei for me. The pleasure is in the pain of the journey rather than the destination. Maybe if we insist readers flagellate themselves while reading, our book will be seen as a “good” thing.

Why is it that “hard” art and literature is seen as better than the accessible stuff ? Jack Vettriano is loved by millions but according to the art world, his output is rubbish. Surely there is a skill in making things easy for people ? No one ever tells you that a difficult to follow set of instructions is better than an easy to read version do they ?

Not being one to miss a marketing opportunity, if you feel that a book should be an agony to read, should you not only be a “glass half empty” person but a “glass half empty and what there is in there is a sprinkle of broken glass and a pile of puetird dung” person then please buy the special edition of ours. It’s will cost £5000 but I will personally come round and jab you with sharp objects as you read. And shout rude words. You don’t get the last 3 chapters either ‘cos you might enjoy finding out how it all ends. That way you can be miserable and happy.



Filed under Phil, Writing

Cup cake week day 5 – Pink with a star

Phil: This glitzy little number is from Patisserie Valerie in London. Yes dear readers, for the love of cake I went down to the big city in search of the best confectionary in Great Britain.

OK, I actually went because I love wandering around London and Chiltern Trains were running a cheap deal. I still bought the cake in the capital from a pearly king having been unable to believe my mince pies when I saw it. This photo was taken on some staging used to show off a new Vauxhall in front of a church. Don’t know why they felt the need to do this, and there was a man taking photos of the car which seemed odd until I realised he had set it up. Just to keep him happy I pretended to photograph the car and not just the cake.

Anyway, my method of navigating the capital is a bit like the journey readers go on when opening a new book. I knew of a couple of places I wanted to go but really I just like wandering around London and seeing what I find. The unexpected is what I’m looking forward to. One minute you are in Parker Street (yes it really exists) thinking that you should start heading for the station. Next you are in theatreland with all the bright lights and glittery people. Next it’s Chinatown. Then outside Foyles Bookshop surrounded by other bookshops. A trip down a side-road and everywhere is selling musical instruments. Then you are on the edge of Soho but being a good boy, skirting around this. And so it goes on.

None of this was planned and all of it was fun.

Which is why we read fiction. If you know exactly how it’s going to turn out, the journey isn’t quite as enjoyable. Yes there are books you can read more than once, but it’s never quite as good as the first trip into the unknown. For a start, unless your memory is terrible, you’ll never experience those moments when you desperately want to read faster to discover what is going to happen or the frustration when the real world gets in the way and the reading has to be put on hold. Who hasn’t read a book in a single session ? Isn’t it glorious but also feels a bit naughty ? Like wallowing in a particually good cake.

Of course this only works if the writer has done their job properly and dropped a few twists into the plot. I knew we were getting the hang of it when I re-read some of the manuscript and realised that without thinking about it, an interruption was dropped into the middle of a story strand and it worked. In fact there were several strands running and the reader bounced their way between these a bit like my trip down musical instrument road and back into book shop avenue. I’m quite pleased about all this as I suspect everyone who write their first book is. Hard-bitten old authors will be wondering what the heck I’m on about since to them it’s as natural as breathing.

The cake by the way was lovely. Hopelessly impractical as a take-away item as the icing sticks to the inside of the bag, which explains why doughnuts are so popular. Not at all sickly either. I know it looks like every mouthful will see the eater on a sugar high powerful enough to get them running up walls, but in reality it’s a good spongy based with creamy topping. Not sure about the white chocolate star though, especially since I read that dark chocolate is as good for you as a run.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Cup cake week day 3 – Chocolate Butterfly Cake

Phil: Is this a butterfly cake or, since it is brown, should it be a moth cake ?

Whatever, it be it’s got you licking your lips. A rich brown cake which has been hollowed out, filled with chocolate flavoured filling and then the removed parts chopped in half and reinserted in a decorative stylie.  Add in some colour from the healthy orange juice and lemonade (the good properties of this will cancel out the bad ones of the cake. FACT) and the silver of a weathered pub table and you have quite a nice scene.

The problem is that the cake, while promising so much, wasn’t that exciting. Sure, it was a good solid, if a little bland, chocolate cake, but there was a bigger issue – the height. I mean, I have a big gob yet couldn’t bite it properly. Maybe posh people will use a fork but there wasn’t one available and only after I finished did I remember the emergency spork I carry in my bag (can you spot I was a cub scout ?). This could have resulted in a horrible cake-related injury. Could I sue because the dimensions were wrong ?

Which brings me back to books. The more observant will have noticed that as many series progress, the page count soars. Early Harry Potters were little more than a pamphlet. Printing the last book required the deforestation of half of Europe. At the time of release, sharp braking on commuter trains resulted in many deaths as the part read books flew forward into unsuspecting people on the way to work.

As Candice has mentioned, our efforts are slim at just over 80,000 words, but adequate. Sure we could have stuffed some more description in but this wouldn’t have done any favours. In fact there is a whole chunk of story consisting of several pages that got the chop as the first batch of test readers indicated that it slowed the pace  up at one point. We both love it but it had to go for the greater good.

A bit like the bottom centimetre of this cake. If someone had realised this, my jaw wouldn’t ache.


Filed under Phil, Writing

The Insider Guide to How to Get Published – Part 2

Phil: I know, I know. In the last post I teased you with a bit of info on this conference and then only talked about the people we shared a room with. That’s not what you were hoping for, instead, as Ronald Regan once said, “Where’s the beef ?”.

The answer to that is “In the very nice burger I had at lunchtime at the American style dinner near the station.” but that’s not very helpful either, so I’ll try again.

I’m not telling you. You should have paid up and gone yourself. There. Done it.

What ? Not customer friendly enough ? Well, if you’ve kept the receipt for the money you paid to read this, you can have a refund.

However, because I am a kind person, here’s a few titbits.

  • First up a short summary of the first session was saw by a nice man from Bloomsbury – no one is buying books any more. The shops don’t stock a back list and no one is making any money. Howard Jacobson bumbles along selling about 15,000 books a year with 60,000 if they bag a really good  film deal. Advertising doesn’t work. Publicity doesn’t work. Publishers only bother to keep the authors happy. All the top sellers are by celebrities so if you’re a cute animal from a car insurance advert or Kate Price/Jordan/ Micheal McIntyre then you’re in luck, if not, go away and leave us alone.
  • You don’t need a synopsis when submitting fiction. Or you do. Take your pick as we heard both during the day. If it helps, the don’t camp includes Esther Freud and Alexandra Pringle, one a published author who seemed to come through the process remarkably easily (jealous, moi ?), the other a literary agent (with big L). On the do side we have Carole Blake and every article you read on submitting work to agents. You choose basically.
  • If the Artisits & Writers yearbook says submit one way and the agent/publishers website says differently, go with the website.
  • Basically, there is no right way to get a book published. Every story you hear or read is slightly different. The important thing to remember is that publishing is a business. If you want to write just for the sake of it then your manuscript will forever languish in a drawer, or at best you’ll have to self-publish. If you want to interest a publisher than you have to be commercial, at least a little. Just looking around the room we knew that there were plenty of other people in competition with us. Those looking for people to fill pages can take their pick.
  • Cafe Nero do a cracking chocolate crunch biscuit. A sort of rocky road cake with extra chocolate. Just what you need after a hard day learning stuff.

Was it worth it ? Yes. Since our little trip to the big city, our writing has been invigorated. There have been a few changes to the manuscript in the last week thanks to a new-found sense of purpose.

The journey continues.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

The importance of chocolate

Chocolate machineA lot of writing involves telling people things without actually telling them subtlety being the key. While our characters endure much emotional turmoil we can’t keep saying “Kate looked miserable” or “Tracey was elated”. There has to be another way to convey this to the reader.

Ironically, a lot of the time we use a visual metaphor. When Kate is feeling threatened she dresses sharply, her suits are a carapace to protect her and hide any vulnerability. Tracey on the other hand exploits her wardrobe to enhance her feminine whiles and so the clothes become tighter and occasionally there are less of them, especially in an important scene you’ll have to read in the book if you want to know more !

I think this works better on the page than on television or film. Most of the time, characters wear clothes because that’s what we do. Therefore when you see someone on telly wearing clothes you don’t think anything about it, unless you’re watching a specialist channel late at night anyway. In the text we also assume that or characters are wearing clothes suitable for the situation they find themselves in, or that they would like to find themselves as in Tracey’s case, after all, this is a story and not the Freemans Catalogue so we need to get on with the plot (I am going to get soooo much stick for that shopping reference, probably have said the Asos website) .

All this means that when clothes get a mention, the writer is telling the reader something. I’ve blogged about my learning curve in this respect before so I’ll leave this there. The real point of this post is to mention an important character who isn’t human and yet is important to the plot.

The chocolate machine.

It doesn’t matter where you work, the organisation has a “mood”. HR call it staff morale and produce PowerPoint presentations on the subject. Even though the company isn’t a real entity*, it sometimes seems down and sometimes cheerful. On the good days, everything is going to plan. Individuals might be sunny or grumpy but they often seem at odds with the overall mood and b****y anoying because of this. But as writers, how do we represent this ? After all, the plot revolves around an organisation being closed down. Mentioning every couple of pages that the whole place seems miserable is likely to have the reader on the phone to the Samaritans by chapter 3. That’s got to limit the potential sales of any sequel.

Luckily, we were sitting in a quango which had an ideal character. Now we’d been carefull not to include anyone who might recognise themselves from the page. The Horticulture Investigation Agency is entirely fictitious and not anything like where were working but that didn’t mean we couldn’t pinch ideas and inspiration from our situation. In the corner of the office was a kitchen and in the kitchen a chocolate machine. And you could tell how people were feeling from the state of he contents.

If everyone was fine then the would slowly be consumed but there were certain delicacies that just didn’t seem worth the bother and never sold between refills. When you buy sweets there are some you like and some you just ignore. For some reason the machine often had a quantity of the later. Worse, the design was such that before the delivery spiral got to the nice sweets, they dull items often had to be sold. When the news came through that the place was closing, if the packet chocolate in any form in it, there was a willing buyer.

So, the chocolate machine acts as a barometer for the organisation. If you are in Human Resources, you might like to bear this in mind. At least it will give you and excuse to nip down to the kitchen and check on the contents. Perhaps management ought to be informed when the staff will even eat the Blue Ribands ?

*Companies might not be real entities but according to a particularly nutty person I knew many years ago, they could have horoscopes. Really, people used to pay her money to cast a bespoke horoscope for their firm. If you find out that the CEO is having this done then perhaps it’s time to polish the CV and head for the lifeboats.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing