Tag Archives: cupcakes

Self Publishing – not as bad as we thought?

Cakes!Candice: Phil and I toddled along to a “self publishing clinic” as part of Stratford Literary Festival yesterday afternoon.  Having delved into the idea of self publishing before Phil and I had been reluctant as it seemed like the route for those who couldn’t get an Agent or a proper publishing contract, but having listened to tonight’s event, it seems things have changed in the publishing world.

In fact, in the two years since we started this project, and went to London to the Writers and Artists year book event, the perception of self publishing seems to have come along in leaps and bounds.  No longer is the pariah of the book world, it seems that more people are going down this route than the traditional as the publishing world gets squeezed by ebooks and the recession.

The event was compared by Ian Davies, owner of a self publishing company Swift Publishing, Gareth Howard, a book marketing expert and Polly Courtney, self published author.  Obviously, these guys are going to have a bias as they work in this industry (or have been successful by this route) but what they said made a lot of sense.

I really like Gareth’s description of this being like selling your house:

1. Get an Estate Agent – yes it’s slightly easier than getting a literary agent but their job is to sell your house/book.  They don’t have to like it, it just has to be well presented and saleable.

2. Market it properly – be that rightmove or social media, it’s about getting your commodity out there on the market.  In the book world, that’s about creating a good sales package that you can do alongside what your agent is doing.

3. It’s all about the money – remember this is a commercial enterprise so whether selling a house or a book, it needs to make money.  Make your offering as good as possible, perhaps sell the first book online and then show you are a saleable entity – Agents aren’t about making the world a better place, they are all about ROI.

And then finally, you have to be an entrepreneur in all this.  You can’t be precious about what you are selling, you need to put together a professional package, be that social media or a good spokesperson for the media. Tim backed this up by saying publishers may often turn away a perfectly good book if the author isn’t PR friendly.

Polly added some useful thoughts on how she made it in this book world. I admired her gumption as she had the offer of a publisher but stuck to her guns to publish the book she wanted, not what they wanted.  And she’s carried on from there.

Another useful event for Phil and I, and has left us fired up to investigate the world of self publishing as it sounds like it’s no longer “vanity” publishing.  Put us on your Christmas book shopping list now!

And of course, there were tea and cakes with this event, something I think we should have at all of our signing events in the future.

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You have to chuck the right person off the roof

Oxford RoofPhil: As mentioned on Tuesday, we had a bit of a writing sesh last week where The Book received a good reordering.

Much of the feedback from test readers mentioned that we have fallen into the newbie trap of taking up too much valuable reader time setting introducing characters and setting up the story. If I’m honest, while the first third is sublime, we don’t really get stuck in to the story. Having expended a lot of effort in short stories and also analysing other peoples books, we realised that you have to pitch the reader straight in and worry about explaining things later.  To make matters worse, this the three first chapters that are submitted to agents, the very people you need to grab by the throat with your writing.

Some months ago, I had a go at tackling this. Taking a scene midway in the story that only receives a passing mention, I expanded it out with the intention of providing a bit of drama and introducing our main character. The result was (I thought) funny and reasonably dramatic but it didn’t really do it. Despite revolving around someone nearly going over the edge* of a roof, we didn’t feel it was right for the opening.

My choice of start point was partly influenced by a lack of imagination as to how we got back into the main story afterwards. It’s all very well being dramatic but if you cut straight to the chase, the book ends up ten pages long and no one has a clue what lead up to the denouncement. I grabbed an extra scene that was fun but only introduced one person. It simply didn’t do enough.

Candice was braver and picked a different point with someone going over the edge. We don’t do a lot of it, but chucking people from the roof is dramatic and no one can tell me otherwise. By using a single viewpoint we get three main characters introduced quickly and manage to incorporates a mystery element in too. All in just over two pages. Best of all, in our pre-cake rehashing, we worked out how the intro can drop us back in the main story and even use it to make the main character more sympathetic. To be honest, it’s pretty much perfect.

By the time we were looking at coloured cupcake, we were in possession of a plan. This is a relief. I’ve been pondering the problem on and off for a while but while I could see the solution, it always seemed in soft focus. A bit like the world before I put my glasses on in the morning. Now I can see it not just with specs on but through recently cleaned lenses.

*True fact. As I was typing this, on my iPod the Manic Street Preachers were singing “Suicide is Painless” on random play. How’s that for serendipity?

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TV shows we will be appearing on. One day.

Phil: They say that you shouldn’t dress for the job you, have, you should dress for the job you want to have. As some with the fashion sense of a scarecrow, I pay attention to this sort of advice.

Extending the concept a bit, since you are reading this in a freshly minted 2013, I though it might be a good idea to suggest where the nolanparker team will be in the future. We are working at the project from both ends so to speak. Having done a load of the writing stuff that should happen at the start of a career, now it’s time to look at the bit when we are (more) famous. Working backward from this point, eventually we’ll meet in the middle and know the whole story. That probably sounds mad. It probably is mad, but I prefer to think of it as “out of the box” thinking.

Anyway, we have had a few discussions in the pub to divvy up the TV appearances. Since there are two of us, we feel there is the opportunity to bring the exciting nolanparker brand of humour and insight to all corners of broadcasting without risking over-exposure. So, pay attention TV producers, here’s the list:

Top Gear

We will both take part in the “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” segment of the show. Clarkson can make merry with some shtick about finding two people on stage when he announces the name “Nolan Parker”. The audience will fall in lurve with a gurl who drives an Alpha Romeo and I’ll record a time to gain a place at the bottom of the board. Sadly, this will all be useless in terms of sales unless we write a Haynes manual but it looks like fun.

Never mind the nolanparkersNever Mind the Buzzcocks

Another one of both of us. Plan A was that I would be on Phill Jupitus’s team along with Phil Collins, giving an amusing line-up of Phil’s. Madame decided that she will only take part if, during the Intro’s round, she can be singing the intro rather than trying to guess it. This came as a surprise to me having witnessed her devastating ability to recognise pop intros, especially those from the 1980’s – anything you would have listened to while wearing fluorescent clothes, blowing a whistle and shouting “Tuuuuuuuunnnnnneeeeee!!!!” to.

Never mind, that means we can both end up on Noel’s team, probably a better home for our humour anyway. And we both get to wear mad clothes, or in my case, bad clothes that I will claim are being worn ironically.

Strictly Come Dancing

It’s the show with fancy dresses and sequins. Even if I was stupid enough to open the invitation, failure to hand it over would probably result in several broken fingers.

Have I got News For You

This one’s all mine. Not sure whose team I’ll be on but I promise to read all the newspapers the week before and try to have funny things to say.  That probably puts me on the Merton side but it will be nice to win something for once.

The News Quiz and all the radio stuff

Mine again. I have a face for radio so it seems like a good fit. Sadly, the role of “person unable to carry a tune in a bucket” on I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue is already taken by Jeremy Hardy so I’m not going to be able to take part in this one. Shame really, as I play a mean game of Mornington Crescent.

I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here

Don’t be silly. Neither of us is going to spend time in a jungle eating kangaroo parts. Besides, we’re already too famous for the show.

Celebrity Big Brother

See above. I mean, really, how desperate do you think we are? This is Channel 5 for heaven’s sake. More to the point, how many people who watch these shows can read anything more erudite than The Sun?

Celebrity Great British Bake Off

It’s a show about cake. Lots and lots of cake. Of course we’ll do it. Yum!

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Stirring the creative juices

Patriotic afternoon teaPhil: It’s a couple of years since we started writing The Book and at least 12 months since we considered it finished enough to hand out to test readers. Since then, much cake has been eaten, several attempts have been made to punt the manuscript to agents. We’ve met a few people in the book publishing business. Revisions to the text have been considered.

Basically, we’ve talked a lot and written very little.

But, all this has changed recently. While generating enthusiasm for the inevitable editing and re-writing process on Kate vs The Dirtboffins has been difficult, we have become little creative powerhouses in the short story world.

Candice mentioned one of our first efforts “The Cathedral Killer” recently but since then we’ve completed another story and have two more on the stocks going through the process of being refined. Last week we met up, took the photo above, and set ourselves a deadline to each write 1000 words by the following Friday (tomorrow). We had both done our homework by Tuesday – that’s how much we wanted to do this.

Both efforts are completely different to anything else we’ve written, including the other shorts. These little side projects have freed our creative juices a bit. The vague plan is to have produced enough decent efforts to self-publish a collection by Christmas. Some of these will have been entered in writing competitions. At least two will have been picked up for major feature films which I am told will star George Clooney. Hmmmm. Well, we’ll do the book anyway.

The moral of this story appears to be that if you want to write – WRITE SOMETHING. It doesn’t matter what, just bang the keyboard. Yes, you need to plough through the big manuscript but if you aren’t enjoying it, go and write something else for a bit. You’ll need to do all the same processes on the short as the novel, but the pain will be over quicker. If we are anything to go by, it gives you fresh perspectives on the main project.

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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.

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Cup cake week day 4 – Orange with pink bits

Phil: Being a bloke, the whole cupcake thing always struck me as a bit “girlie”. The cakes are always pretty colours, not something that would appeal to macho types such as myself.

Take today’s example. It’s a sort of peachy orange colour, smells of fruit and to top it all, has pink sprinkles. Short of being bright pink, could it be any more feminine ?

Despite this, it’s perfectly nice cake. And I speak as someone who has eaten a lot of cake in his lifetime. Maybe I’m going all metrosexual in my confectionary preferences, or perhaps I’m just greedy and will eat pretty much anything.

But is there such a thing as a cake for blokes ?

In the book world, it’s easy to see who reads what. If it’s got guns, gritty soldiers or Andy McNab on the cover then it’s a blokes book. Pink stuff, flowers, a cartoon of a woman or some shopping and it’s girls that are the target market.

Our book though is a bit like the orange cake. It isn’t very girlie but definitely has chick-lit running through it. We’re not daft, this is the biggest market in the world and targeting it makes sense. Realistically, I don’t like stuff about guns or gritty soldiers and I’m not called McNab so I’m not going to bend my writing in this direction. Mix that with someone who does like a bit of shopping and fashion but could lay out Bridget Jones with a swift right hook, bake for a few months and out pops a sort of chick-lit lite story. As we say, she will enjoy it but he will read it and have a laugh too.

Just like the cake. She might buy it but it won’t stop him wolfing it down.

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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.

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Cup Cake week day 2 – Custard and Apple Turnover

Phil: I know what you are thinking, “That’s not a cupcake”.

And you know what ? You’re absolutely right. However, today’s lesson is about thinking outside of the box. Doing the unexpected.

Now I like catering custard. Some people think it’s horrible slimy stuff but they are wrong. It’s delicious, and so as soon as I saw this cake in the shop, I knew it was going to be mine. It’s even got apple in it making this a healthy cake !

The choice of cake isn’t the only off the wall choice today though, the shop I bought if from was. It was a butcher’s shop. You can see a hole in the top crust of the puff pastry where the meat-wrangler poked his thumb through not realising that puff-pastry has to be treated with rather more reverence than a side of beef.

The problem with this cake is its size. You really can have too much of a good thing. In this respect it’s like a Dan Brown novel. By the last page you feel you’ve enjoyed yourself but slightly bloated at the same time and a little bit guilty.

But – look at the cake – it’s got a big smile on its face ! And that dear reader, is what anyone who reads out book has.

So the moral of this blog post is to try something new. Chomp on an unusual cake. Sign a couple of first time authors for a 6-figure publishing deal. You too could be grinning from ear to ear.

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Cup Cake week day 1 – Cherry Bakewell

Phil: I received an excited e-mail from Candice this morning saying “It’s national cupcake week. We have to do something with that !” As ever, she has proved to be at the cutting edge of confectionary news. It is, and you can even visit the website and download some bunting – I shall be wearing nothing else.

But what to do ? I mean this is a week of great importance to the country. Never mind your royal weddings, this is a week devoted to the celebration of something great. Cakes  !

Anyway, as regular blog readers will know, we both love cake so this seems to good an opportuinity to miss. Therefore, every day this week, you can look forward to a picture of a cake and some tenuous link to our book. Don’t worry, we’ll do the dangerous work of eating them for you. You just stare at the screen and try not to lick it, or at least not while your boss is looking.

Today’s cake is a cherry bakewell.

This as standard a cake as you get. Some pastry around the edge, nice filling that’s not too sweet, a dash of jam for excitement and then sickly sweet icing on top. Crowned with a cherry, it is a cake that almost everyone can enjoy at any time. Can you ask more than that ?

In the world of literature it is a proper commercial pot-boiler. If Agatha Christie had written a cake, this is what she’s have produced. It’s not something that the culinary elite will like, in fact they will look down their noses at it and head for something featuring raw fish and cat sick because it’s the latest clever thing to be liking. Real people though, will buy it by the ton and enjoy every one.

The cherry bakewell is thus the cake equivalent of The Mousetrap. Goes on forever, always makes people happy.

And that’s very much what we think we have written. It’s not high-brow, we just want to make lots of people happy.

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Where do you write best ?

Phil: I’ve worked in offices all my life. There might have been the occasional trip out to a farm wearing a bright green boiler suit, but to be honest working life for me has involved going to a room with desks, telephones and bits of paper every day.  Because of this I associate office with work. Sit me in a nice park and unlike the people in a computer advert, I don’t feel the urge to whop out a laptop and start fiddling with Excel.

Perhaps this is why I find it quite tough to get stuck in to some writing when at home. I’m OK once I get going but it seems unnatural and there are other distractions to feed my natural urge for procrastination. Many other people share my problems with this I’m sure. The nolanparker team has been known to decamp to a library to get some work done as silence combined with the bookish atmosphere seems conducive to good literature creation.

Just occasionally I get to try somewhere different. Yesterday I was minding the Town Hall for a few hours. It’s not a difficult job really. People come in for meetings and have to be told to sign in. Sometimes tourists drop by and I have to try to temper their disappointment that the public bits of the building are a mass of corporation green paint and badly sited cables when the fine Victorian exterior would lead you to expect something rather more grand. Very occasionally, we get loonies wander in who have to be persuaded to wander out again without making a mess of the leaflet displays.

In between times I’m left to my own devices. As an occasional, temporary town hall minder, I don’t have a mass of other things to do. Most others in my position read books or magazines. I tried this but then realised, I had found the perfect spot to write. It looks a bit like an office apart from the occasional interruptions. Even these are welcome as you never know who you will be talking to next and the variety adds to the day. But as it looks like an office, my brain says “work” and so my fingers can fly around the keyboard.

The only exception is when I’m tasked with clearing up excess cakeage left over from planning meetings. Of course, I should point out that the photo shows a very small laptop which means that is a really tiny cake. Never let it be said we are profligate with the public purse !

Anyway, I have a few more sessions of minding coming up. With a bit of luck that means a few hundred more words.

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