Tag Archives: crash test dummies


Kate had managed to finagle an introductory conference call with the HIA team.  Strangely it hadn’t been that hard work, Olive had positively been brimming with ideas for them and seemed to be happy to set this up, Kate hoped that the rest of the job would also be a walk in the park!


1. (tr) to get or achieve by trickery, craftiness, or persuasion; wangle
to use trickery or craftiness on (a person)

Phil: Did you know what finagle means ? Before you read the definition above, obviously.

I did, but one of our test readers didn’t. It’s this sort of input that is so important and the only way you get it is by asking people. When you are a writer you tend to cultivate a high reading age (because we are clever people you understand, or you would if you were as erudite as us wot make words) simply by reading loads of stuff. The trap I fell in to was using a word that I might know but some of my audience didn’t.

This is a classic faux pas. Years of creating web content and then testing it on people have taught me that you can’t second guess your audience and just when you think you can, they will come back and bite you on the backside. You can’t complain, just live with it and move on. I could moan that I’m not writing for idiots but since my reader isn’t, then that’s no excuse.

Reading chick-lit, especially  genre shattering chick-lit comedy like Kate vs The Dirtboffins, should be like driving along a well maintained road. Smooth and pleasurable with not too much thinking required. If we dig a pothole then the ride is ruined. Finagle is a pothole.

So, Kate now blags the conference call and harmony is restored.


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What do you call a posh bird ?

Olivia Trumpington-Thomas was best described as “Good Country Stock”. Her passion was for breeding cattle. Belgian Blue’s were her favourites – although some had cruelly have suggested that the breeds square set stance and stocky features were not that different from their owner. She hadn’t really wanted to marry but her father had said that it was her duty so the task was set about with the same efficiency that she used when choosing sires for her livestock. The list of requirements was short, good temperament, reasonable features and respectable family lineage.

Phil: Olivia is the anti-Kate in our world. Everything Kate is, she isn’t. One loves the country, the other can’t stand the idea of mud on her shoes.

She doesn’t play a large part in our book at present, her first meeting (and mating) with Gareth was edited out as holding up the early part of the story despite being very funny. However, she does still pop up occasionally, mainly to help define Gareth for the reader.  The only problem is her name. You see we also have a character called Olive – who does play a big part in the tale. Neither of us had spotted the similarity between the two names but a couple of the test readers did and found it a touch confusing.

In our heads, there are very different people. We see them different and never confused them but if this book is going to be read by more than a small circle then these things need sorting out. Therefore Olivia needs a new name.

But what should it be ? We’ve bashed ideas around over tea and cake but can’t settle on one that seems right. It needs to be short, ruling out Jocasta or Arabella, the two poshest names I could come up with. The name must have gravitas and age too, Chelsea is too modern and to be honest, too chavy.

The Trumpington-Thomases are a very old family. They doubtless consider the Queen an icon but perhaps a little too German. After all, they can trace their lineage back many generations before her lot pitched up on our shores. They have a family pew in the local church and sit there every Sunday safe in the knowledge that their relatives are beneath them in the family crypt.

These are people who don’t consider fashion. Their gel will be called something traditional. She will live in a world of livestock, sensible shoes, voting Tory, tweed, titles, leaky old houses, aged Land Rovers and wax jackets that might come from Barbour, but because they last for years rather than trendiness. Years ago, she might have been a debutant but not one of the really pretty ones. Tom Sharpe fans should think Lady Maud rather than Pippa Middleton.

Anyway, you get the idea. We need help so are throwing the floor open to suggestions in the comment section please. Let’s see what the fertile minds on the Interweb can come up with.


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Centennial post

http://www.flickr.com/photos/koadmunkee/5827461988/Phil: According to WordPress, this is the 100th post on the nolanparker blog so it seems apposite to have a quick summary of the current position.

First up, we were made redundant from a quango. At this point sensible people would run around like headless chickens panicking. We went to lunch.

Over sandwiches and probably cake, we came up with an idea for a story and since we had very little better to do, started writing. Eventually it became long enough to become a book. We thought it was entertaining and maybe lots of other people would think the same. We also thought that being as rich as JK Rowling would be good fun. Lots of other people think that as well.

In an effort to prove we weren’t deluding ourselves, copies of the story were turned into book form and passed to test readers sometimes refered to as crash-test dummies. Mostly, they agreed that what we had was pretty good and where they didn’t we’ve taken the criticism on board and fixed it. The second round of testing even elicited a “I couldn’t put it down” from one of our more challenging readers. Obviously praise hasn’t been universal. One of the reader decided to give birth rather than feedback but you can’t please everybody.

The people we have yet to please all seem to work in the world of publishing. There have been polite rejections but mostly an absence of responses. Another round of submissions is on the way on the basis that if we write to everyone then at some point, some one has to give in and at least ask to see the complete manuscript don’t they ?

Anyway, progress has stalled a bit recently thanks to other commitments and excess mucus in one of our noses. We’ve found a new meeting point though and are bashing ideas around again. Book 2 will be thrashed out and then written in the new year. We already have the first few pages and a plan for the rest. There will be conflict, love, disaster and lots of laughs.

So, as they say in the movies, watch this space.

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Facing criticism

Phil stared down into his beer. The delicious Old Speckled Hen coursed through his system and started to dull the pain of what he feared was to come. This was high noon for the writers. The day when all the chickens would be coming home to roost. It was the day he had arranged to meet V and find out what she thought  of The Book.

He had met V three jobs ago. She was a PA who ruled her boss and his department with an iron fist. She wasn’t so much the power behind the throne as the ventriloquist behind the dummy. Grown men cowed in her presence and Phil remembered more than once receiving a verbal slap down over the telephone when he dared to step over a previously invisible line

But this made V the ideal person to read The Book. She wouldn’t pull her punches. If there were problems, they would be exposed. If the plot was rubbish, blushes would not be spared. At the end of the day, if The Book had satisfied its reader then a good job could be said to be done.

OK, I’m hamming things up a bit, but this week I’ve received a couple of feedbacks from our second batch of test readers. I won’t be telling you the results until they have been discussed with Candice but the one thing I can be sure of is that they are fair assessments. Some friends are too close to be honest, they might fear causing offense by criticising a project that you’ve been rambling on about in the pub. Others though, aren’t so close so you don’t feel too bad about asking them to devote time to reading your great work whilst being confident that they will tell you the unvarnished truth.

I made it clear to all my test readers that what we needed was honesty. If it’s rubbish, tell me. OK, so this might be ignored but it’s your opinion. It’s possibly an opinion likely to be shared by someone who we approach to publish the thing. On the other hand, if it’s good then there’s the chance of some word-of-mouth that might just reach the ears of someone useful.

The other thing is that opinions vary. I’ve bounced early feedback off later readers and they have disagreed. OK, it’s not a focus group, but I’m doing my best on a limited budget most of which is spent on beer.

For the writer, it’s important to be open to criticism and make this very obvious. We are conditioned (mostly) not to be confrontational and so sitting down to tell some hard truths about a manuscript someone has spent ages slaving over is very difficult. A pint of beer or cake helps but it’s still a big ask to get someone to give up time to read and then comment on your book. It has to be done though. I mean, I think it’s great and so does my friend Candice. But then we aren’t really the most impartial of witnesses.

Whether V liked it, you’ll have to wait to find out. I need to discuss the results with my colleague first. Watch this space.

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Test reading: Round 2

Kate vs The Dirtboffins and orange juicePhil: I’ve just taken delivery of the second batch of printed books courtesy of Lulu.com The new editions have freshly polished text and the tractor’n’cupcake cover which looks pretty.

Resisting the urge to sneak the copies on to the shelves of a nearby Waterstones to see what happened, I met up with Candice to hand some over whilst enjoying some healthy soft drinks and a huge portion of very nice, but red-hot, pub chips. A balanced meal I’m sure you’ll agree.

She will be passing these on to more readers, one of whom lives in Wolverhampton, so it will be one of the nicest things to happen to him. I’ve already sent copies on to a couple of people who can be trusted to read and then tell me the truth. One (Hello Sarah) managed to get to page 80 in 24 hours which shows either commitment or speed reading skills. Looking at the book, this is the point where the story hots up with some giant cabbage action.

As an added extra, Neil is relaxing in 40 degree heat and reading an electronic version because I’m too stingy to post a copy out to his exotic poolside venue. That’s what happens when you are a prolific commenter on this blog. You have been warned !


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Finding £150,000

Kate was really excited, Gareth was getting the general gist of her idea. Now the money….

 However, I’ve got all these ideas but I need some funding. I’ve worked out I need around £20,000 to get this off the ground.”  She left that comment hanging to see if Gareth could work out what she meant.

Phil: This was the text from the book earlier tMillionaire shortbread on wheels. Yes really. It looks a bit like a car doesn't it ?his year. It prompted this comment from Steve –

“£20,000 seems too little money to start a business with staff, office space and that gets paid at least 6 months in arrears. It seems to me that £80,000 is still probably not enough money. ”

He’s right. £20k is the sort of figure that is way too low for kicking of a business like the one we have in mind for Kate. It’s a bit like watching the James Bond film “Thunderball” today and laughing because the price set for a couple of nuclear missiles by SPECTRE is only £100 million. That’s well under a billion quid to save the world. Try that nowadays and the governments are likely to laugh at you too which isn’t good for the supervillan ego. Mind you, there are plenty of bits of the UK the current government would let you turn into a smoking crater for less…

Anyway, neither of us can work out where the £20k figure comes from. It probably just went in as a number with the intention of looking at it again later. Then we got distracted and never thought about it. To be fair, there are plenty of other things to do !

This is why we needed test readers. They look at the book with fresh eyes and then tell us the truth. Sometimes the comments are big (see the last post) sometimes they are details. At least the later are easy to fix. With a bit of tweaking, we now have:

However, I’ve got all these ideas but I need some funding. I’ve worked out I need around £150,000 to get this off the ground.”  She left that comment hanging to see if Gareth could work out what she meant.

£150,000 ?! I hear you cry. Where did you get that figure from ? Is it Candice’s annual handbag budget ? Or the amount it will cost you to get that old VeeDub through its next MOT ?

Well, there is a method in my madness. Steve might think £80k will do it but I know Steve and reckon Kate has much more expensive tastes. Her firm is based in Solihull which while it doesn’t need London rents for office space, will swallow more than a pokey room over a chippie in West Bromwich. There will be nice desks and other furniture to buy too. After all, you can’t impress clients if everyone is sitting behind things that have been rescued from a skip, and Kate doesn’t do rescuing things from skips. Not even skips in posh areas.

My thought process ran along the lines that Gareth was going to find the funds, if he didn’t the story stops there. The problem is that while he is wealthy, he isn’t (here comes the cake reference…) as rich as a big piece of millionaires shortbread so he couldn’t just dig around the back of the sofa for enough loose change. The only way he could stump up would be to make an economy. But what can you do to save £150k ? Simple, don’t buy a car. If you don’t buy the correct car, the money magically appears.

Maybe it was this thought or just the lunchtime Dutch courage but a trip to the loo suddenly like a good idea. That little voice in his head was saying he needed to keep her on her toes. Standing over the urinal he did his serious thinking – for a moment he thought of the Aston Martin brochure on his desk picked up a few days ago. He had promised himself something better than the Jag for a while, but maybe that could wait. Was the idea of spending more time with Kate, too good an opportunity to miss ? Obviously Olivia wouldn’t be getting a new car either but then the state she managed to get them into with he collection of old string, farming implements and mud, well it wasn’t any hardship. She didn’t care about those sort of things anyway.

Simple really. Gareth keeps the Jag and we get to carry on with the story. All of which brings me back to Bond. You see, in the books, he didn’t have an Aston Martin either !

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Crash test dummies

Books and Diet CokePhil: If you build a motor car, at some point you have to strap some crash test dummies into the seats and throw the thing at a concrete block. This isn’t just a legal requirement, nor a desire to produce some exciting YouTube footage, as a car maker you want to know that your product isn’t going to gain you a bucket load of adverse publicity when it hits the streets, or other cars.

OK, so you don’t do this with a book but at some point if it IS going to hit the world you want people to like it. With this in mind, we’ve recruited some test subjects (you notice I didn’t say dummies) of our own. They will be strapped firmly to the pages and hurled into our imaginary world.

This is why earlier today, Candice and I sat down in a pub over some nice healthy salad (we don’t just eat cake you know) to split up the pile of freshly Lulu.com printed books. We now have 6 copies, 2 originals and 4 MK2 “Phil fixed most of the bugs” versions. The new copies versions have larger print as both our mothers commented on the small size in the first attempt. This has made them a bit chunkier, and pushed the price per copy up nearly a pound but hey are worth every penny as the quality is such that when presented with a copy to read, the first victim didn’t realise it was anything other than a normally published book until her sister explained just how special it was !

Anyway, this is a big moment. Until now the only people to read the words are those of us who wrote them. Will real people think they are as good as we do ? I can’t believe the manuscript is perfect, very good  would be the best we can hope for, but I’m agog to find out what they think.

Let’s hope it’s not a car crash eh ?

(Note: Admit it, you read the title of this post and are now humming Mmmm Mmmmm Mmmm in a Canadian Accent aren’t you.)


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