Tag Archives: ideas

Time to gather up our ideas

think_aheadPhil: With Kate vs the Navy now out, we are pondering the third in the series.

Much of the humour and many of the important scenes in both books are based on our own experiences. HIA, from Kate vs the Dirtboffins, is influenced by one of my past employers. Recently, I met someone who reckoned he could write a list of real people who match the characters in the book…

Kate vs the Navy has the plot pivoting on an incident that happened to Candice. I’ve wondered for a long while what we would have done if it hadn’t happened to her (no spoilers, but if it helps, she did blog about it at the time). The resulting plotline made a lot of sense both for this book and the story arc covering the whole series.

So, now it’s time to mine our lives for more events to turn in to the plot. We already know that my job history is likely to provide the location for the latest set of adventures. I know it’s Candice’s turn, but I’ve worked in weirder places than she has – which probably tells you something about me.

One little tidbit I’m keen to include is a driving assessment I recently undertook. These are a requirement for anyone driving one of the firm’s cars and so I had to cruise around country lanes for 50 minutes trying not to crash into any tractors while a man decided if I was safe to do so.

Now the idea of people criticising your driving is a real horror for most people and I reckon that all our characters would be hilarious if placed in this position. Kate especially would find it hard – she’s not good at “feedback” at the best of times and she’ll be just the sort of person who thinks they are a great driver simply because they know which foot makes the car go quickly. Tracey, on the other hand, thinks she’s a good driver because her lipstick, applied while looking in the rearview mirror, is perfect.

The poor examiner doesn’t stand a chance.

Anyway, Book 3 starts in the new year. We better hope our festive crackers have thinking caps inside them.


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So THAT’S what the song is all about.

Phil: Last week, Candice was blogging about one of her earliest favourite albums – Phil Collins “No Jacket Required” and by coincidence, I was listing to a show on the radio about one of mine.

1985 saw the release of Suzanne Vega’s eponymous first album and to promote it, the first single “Marlene on the Wall” enjoyed heavy rotation on Radio 1. What I should have done is rushed out and bought the album, but in those days, my local library loaned proper vinyl albums out so I simply borrowed it and made a tape using my sisters record player and the tape recorder I used for my ZX Spectrum. Obviously this is bad so don’t do it kids. As they said at the time, “Home taping is killing music” even if the phrase “It tapes tapes” appeared on every stereo system in my mum’s catalogues at the time.

Anyway, while I liked the songs and the imagery, the inspiration for the lyrics was always a bit of a mystery. Until I heard Johnnie Walker’s Long Players last week. The program covered the album track by track with explanations of each from Vega.

Much of it was slightly disappointing, stuff about songs being something to do with whoever she was dating at the time but for pure weirdness, the track “Small Blue Thing” wins.

Inspiration struck when she saw the blue doorknob in a boyfriends apartment. In the centre of the knob (stop sniggering at the back) was the image of a blue eyeball. All of which inspired the opening lines:

Today I am
A small blue thing
Like a marble
Or an eye

Utter barking mad, but oddly, still sounds good today.

So, songwriter, get down to the ironmonger’s for your next hit. It just shows, ideas can come from anywhere.

Mind you, if you think this is oddball, I’m working out how to shoehorn a Lieutenant Pigeon joke into our latest book just to see if anyone spots it…

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Step away from the hovercraft…

Phil: Our latest luncheon meet-up was notable for a couple of things.

First, the queue for the cake was so long and slow-moving that I had to settle for a baguette that was delicious, but the same colour as my shoe.

Second, we came up with a significant new addition to the text that both fills a hole in the story and provides a chance to add more funny stuff. Because of that, writing the first draft falls to me. I’m researching at the moment.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading a book about hovercraft. I’m fascinated by them having managed to take a ride across the channel and back the weekend before they were taken out of service back in 2000.

From this, I discover there was a hovercraft development site not very far from the fictional island we’ve set Kate vs the Navy on.

This sets me thinking, can I include this in the story? There is a definite place for it if I changed a boat into a hovercraft. There would even be some logic to the change.

But then I realised that appealing as the idea was, I’d need to make more and more changes to the existing text and most of these would add nothing other than the chance to satisfy my love of hovercraft. That’s not a good reason to mess around. Worse, as hovercraft are much harder to control than boats, there would be a definite credibility gap at a crucial point. Not perhaps one that many people would spot, but if I were a reader, it would annoy me and you don’t want to annoy your reader.

I guess the lesson to be learned is that you can’t cram all the ideas you have into a book. The secret is to assemble the best ones and learn to put the others back in the box for another day.

Back to the stuff I’m supposed to be reading up on…


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Playing with your imagination

playmobilediverPhil: Imagination. We’ve all got it, but adults have it sucked out of us if we aren’t careful.

I’m reminded of this as I was strolling around the London Toy Fair last week. While I was carefully looking for items for a couple of magazines who had commissioned coverage from me, being a big kid, I couldn’t resist taking a peek at some of the other goodies there.

Both Candice and I were Lego fans as children. We have similar stories of towns built and played with. Both remember the lives that our tiny plastic people lived in our minds.  I know that this is a direction Nolan Junior will be encouraged in.

Looking around the show, there were plenty of toys that did very little. Lots of “collectables” for sticking on a shelf too.

Mostly though, there were toys you could make up stories for. Figures could leap in and out of wooden trains, boats and cars or go for a ride for adventure.

Children don’t worry so much about realism either. Why shouldn’t a wooden train set be set in medieval time? And if it is, why shouldn’t a dragon pop its baby in a goods wagon for a ride?


It all looks like good fun to me. Far better than plonking the youngster in front of a television. That way leads to a world where you think an Excel spreadsheet is entertainment!

Grown-ups are normally deprived of purple dragons but writing is a socially acceptable way to give your imagination muscles a bit of a workout. Daydream for a bit but get yourself a keyboard or a pen and starts jotting things down. Once you get going, it’s addictive.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and add a bit to a story…

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Writing progress – BOOM!

Library CakePhil: There I am, sitting in a deck chair besides Solihull’s latest tourist attraction – a beach – perusing a magazine about fixing rusty cars, when I’m tapped on the shoulder.

“Don’t you want any cake then?”

Shockingly, I’d been so excited about the mock seaside, I’d not spotted that Candice had lined up pots of tea and a choice of cake in the cafe behind me.

Not to worry, once we’d polished off the refreshments (sparkly cake – excellent!) and I’d established that she’d not brough me any souvenirs back from the previous days trip to Cadbury World (Boo), we got on to discussing the book.

Writers – here’s a handy hint. If you’ve lost your mojo, give some copies of your book away. Once people start talking about it, you’ll be back at the keyboard toot sweet.

It’s certainly working for us. My friend is giddy with excitement about the book now she’s passing copies around her friends and we can see loads of people have downloaded copies. OK, we’re not making money but then we never expected to become as rich as Rowling. We just want people to read and enjoy the story.

And the reviews say they are. It’s a wonderful feeling.

All of which got us sat around a library table with laptops out. At first we discussed how the overall story arc should go in the second book. We’ve worked this out already but this time there was detail. There has to be when the words are to hit the page.

Not only this, we filled in some blanks for the books to follow this as well. It was very exciting to be back discussing plots and ideas.

After this, there was writing. Maybe the sugar rush from the cake was powering us, but after an hour or so, we swapped computers and read the 1000 or so words we’d each written. New words but ones that fitted like jigsaw pieces into the story we are telling.

So, giving away a few copies of our book isn’t such a daft idea after all.

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Writing something else


Candice: So this week I have a new challenge.  Phil and I have come up with a hair-brained scheme to sell more books, more about that in a future blog, however making it work involves writing some terms and conditions.

I do have some experience in this area through previous and my current job, though I normally have a team of legal advisors to help me work out if they are right or wrong.  But this time we are on our own.

If we can get them right it will mean a lovely thing we can talk about and run some PR around, and hopefully shift us into the hundreds of books sold.

But, like all writing, I’m struggling where to start.  Running on the treadmill last night I had a few things rolling round in my head but I need to get them down on paper.  It’s just like writing for the book but without all the exciting story lines,  ‘It’s just the facts’.

This is all part of the next stage of being a published author.  You can’t just put something out there and then hope it will be read.  Every day you need to be coming up with creative ideas to make people buy it, when you don’t have the name and don’t have the big publisher marketing budget.  We just need to keep chipping away and then we’ll have sold a hundred, two hundred and onwards.

So keep your eyes peeled

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Training for politics with Portillo

Michael Portillo Train The last time I saw a politician on stage in Leamington, it was Tony Benn. Can’t remember what he was talking about much as I was working, but the bits I did catch, I didn’t agree with. What with me being a bit of a leftie, that was a surprise.

Spotting that ex-Tory, Michael Portillo was appearing locally, you might expect that I would have run a mile but since his post-MP career has involved talking about trains a lot then perhaps less so. Truth is, in his post parliament career, he comes across as very interesting so I tootled along for entertainment.

Entertaining, it certainly was.

Portillo appeared on stage and stayed put without a break for 90 minutes. For the first hour he anecdoted through both the political and media work. Kicking off with some old jokes he then moved on to his first job in the commons, briefing Margaret Thatcher every morning at 7am on the days news so she could be prepared for her early press conference.

From then, he seemed to have a ringside seat on many major moments of her career both as civil servant and then MP. This carried on right up to her resignation.

After this he had a memorable moment in the 1997, losing his seat to Stephen Twig on live television – the highest profile scalp claimed by Labour in their landslide win.

Although there was a return to parliament a couple of years later, it was then his work on television that took over the talk.

We learned how the series Great British Railway Journeys came about. Apparently he had presented a program on Great Railway Journeys in 2002 using his Spanish heritage as a guide for the trip. Eight years later, the producers of the new series remembered this and offered him the gig as presenter – There have now been 6 series, 2 set in Europe and another due next year set in the USA.

I was interested in the mechanics of the filming and was pleased when someone asked the question in the half-hour Q&A that ended the evening. This was much like a literary festival session except that people generally got on with asking questions. The topics shuttled between politics and media stuff but he fielded each with aplomb.

The question that interested me most related to the modern trend for MPs to rise through the ranks of working for other MPs. To my mind it fills parliament with people who have no experience of the “real world” outside the Westminster bubble. Portillo explained that these people were simply better trained than others when it came to appearing in front of party selection panels. They knew the right answers, they know how parliament works and so they are the ones who stand out from the crowd.

Anyway, an excellent evening. Maybe it’s true that you get more right wing as you get older or maybe it’s just that I’m happy to listen to anyone reasonable and entertaining. It’s odd that I have no interest in biographies but will happily go to an event where someone could easily be promoting one.

There was certainly a glimpse into the world of Westminster and it’s given me some ideas. After all, we have a young(ish) character working for a minister. Perhaps we could map out a future for him as we traverse the story arc of our novels.

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