Tag Archives: Literary festival

Can grammar be glamourous?

Phil: Grammar. It’s dull, boring and essential.

Worse, it’s endlessly argued over by very dull and boring people who really need to get out more and take up and exciting hobby, like bus spotting.

You find them haunting on-line discussions, pouncing on minor infractions in someones posting, promptly dragging themselves up to their full height to denounce the criminal. Never mind the subject under discussion, they have nothing to add to this, no, all they want to do is show their superiority handling a preposition.

Sadly, grammar does matter when you are writing, which is why I pitched up to see David Crystal : Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar a couple of weeks ago.

David is described as ” the most famous name in English linguistics” although I’m not sure how much competition there is for that particular accolade. What I do know is he is marvelously entertaining.

Basically, grammar is all about ensuring your audience can understand you. And English is an evolving language. Things change over time and some of the rules laid down many years ago were arbitrary.

A good case is the Oxford comma.

Were I to be described by Cambridge University Press, I would be tall, dark and handsome.

Oxford University Press would say, tall, dark, and handsome.

See the extra comma before the and? Should it be there or not? I’m in the Cambridge camp here having been taught that you don’t comma before an and in a list. It’s the sort of thing that keeps grammar Nazis entertained for hours.

And what about starting a sentence with a proposition (e.g And)?

This rule dates back to the 19th Century when teachers decided children were doing it too often – so banned them from doing it at all. Sorry, who voted them in for the job? Perhaps they should be asked if it’s wrong, does that mean children should be exposed to Shakespeare, who writes, “And then it started like a guilty thing.in Hamlet. Yes Hamlet, that dreary play where everyone ends up dead. Basically, if starting sentences with And is A. Bad. Thing. Then the Bard can come off the syllabus.

For a potentially dull topic, this was a fun hour.  The Q&A at the end was especially entertaining as David punctured the balloons of some questioners who obviously had specific grammar crimes that really bothered them. A quick explanation of how each came about soon explained why this stuff isn’t life and death.

Me, I took away the knowledge that there are very few hard and fast rules. If the reader understands what you are saying, that’s all that matters. We’re writing a story, not a university text. Even if we were, would it be for Oxford or Cambridge? FIGHT!

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That was 2016 that was…

Phil: Today is the one post of the year when I can legitimately look backward. The news telly people have been doing it for a couple of weeks to save themselves the bother of going in to work so it’s fashionable.

Anyway, for team Nolanparker, 2016 has been a very important year. For a start, we published The Book in paperback:

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If you haven’t bought a copy, please do so from the links on the left of this page. It’s not just me who thinks this is a good idea, the reviews for the electronic version are really good. We’ve plenty of other people who have read it and say the same. Even my mum likes it although she doesn’t think much of Tracey…

With the book out, we’ve been on the road doing our thang in front of real audiences. First there was Stratford Literary festival:

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A “proper” festival appearance means we are “proper” writers. Even JK Rowling wouldn’t have enjoyed better cake in the festival green room. Perhaps her audience might have been bigger, but those who came, enjoyed us a lot.

After this, we gigged in London, where the Queen lives:

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Thanks to Steve and Kim for sorting this out for us. I think our brand of storytelling mixed with pantomime shouting at pictures of Michael Gove went down very well with the metropolitan audience. And Candice got to wear a shiny top and nice shoes.

Best of all though, we have readers. A few promotional events in the year mean we know over 100 people have a copy of the story in their hands or on their Kindles. Getting our words out there is what it is all about. And every time someone tells us they liked them, we are full of smiles.

So, what about 2017? I’ll talk about that next week.

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Thought for day with the Rev Richard Coles: Cake is good.

Phil: Is there anything more middle class than going to Stratford-upon-Avon literary festival’s autumn season, to see a nice vicar because he’s entertaining on Saturday morning Radio 4?

That’s me. I ought to buy my clothes from the Boden catalogue (whatever that is).

Rev Richard Coles is an interesting character. He first appeared on telly as part of 80s band, The Comunards.

After stepping off the waterskis of fame (his description) there were titanic amount of drugs followed by finding a life within the Catholic church, conversion to the Church of England. He is now a parish priest in the diasis of Peterborough as well as Radio 4 regular.

He arrived on stage with his interviewer and a cake an audience member had baked for him. Cutting a slice, he munched through it during the enjoyable hours chat.

Reading up a little before the evening, I discover that life in the Communards was not always each. Jimmy Somerville was a natural at being famous and far more charismatic than his bespecled bandmate. Fans would flock to him, sometimes not even waiting for a completed autograph from the keyboard player. When you are the sort of person who has always tried to “nudge your way into the spotlight”, even while looking like a vicar trying to emerge from a pop star, this has got to be hard.

Is this the future for team Nolan Parker? Will the audiences only have time for one of us? And will it be the glamorous one, or the speccy bloke with the charisma of a tea towel?

Well apparently the pay is good and I’m sure taking the cloth isn’t necessary. I’m sure I’ll manage.

At least when you go to a literary festival, people bring you cake, and as Rev Coles says, it is good!

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Showing off our book

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Phil: We came, we drank cocktails and we told our story in front of a crowd.

Yesterday evening at Books Showoff was great fun. In the bunker underneath Tottenham Court Road Waterstones, we were the last act on stage (we’ll be calling that the Headline Act as it makes us seem more important) and wowed the audience.

There was much booing and hissing at pictures of Michael Gove. We went off piste from the planned words to accompany the slides a bit, but it didn’t matter. Someone suddenly found she really owned the microphone when she got hold of it, something to do with the fancy shoes bought for the occasion I suspect.

Great fun. Sadly we had to run for the tube straight afterwards but if you saw us and enjoyed our stuff then please buy a copy of da book. Link on the left or drop me an e-mail and for £7.99, I’ll send you a signed copy.

Thanks to Steve X for putting this on. Keep an eye on the web page if you are within striking distance of London. A fiver well spent for a great fun evening.

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Books Show Off – 28th September

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Phil: Team NolanParker are on the road again. This time you can catch us at the Tottenham Court branch of Waterstones at the Book Show Off event.

We’ll be amusing everyone with tales of how we came to be great authors and then drinking cocktails. There will be book signings too.

Should be a good night. Get your tickets here.

The event is run by the Science Showoff team, who have a YouTube channel with both science and books.

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Remembering with Pam Nixon

Back in June, Candice and I visited Worcester Litfest for an event called “Authors of a Certain Era“.  I came away with Pam Nixon’s book “But I’ll remember this.”

The book tells the story of Dilly, a rather naive eighteen year old who is a boarder at the Girls’ High School and her meeting with glamorous couple, Mike and Alithea Davis. The text immerses the reader in a 1950s world that seems very alien today. My mother, in her 70s, raced through it and tells me that it brought back a lot of memories and the atmosphere is absolutely spot on. 

As a co-published author, we thought it would be interesting to have a chat with Pam.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

When I retired from a career teaching English I imagined years of leisure ahead during which I’d read long novels like pamnixonheasdshotUlysses and Moby Dick as well as having time to write my novel.

It didn’t turn out quite like that. My daughters started producing children and wanting me to go and help, sometimes locally but also in France and Australia.

We sold the family house and renovated a wreck of a flat in Oxford, where there proved to be many distractions. I took GCSE French and Italian, did art and literature classes as well as joining writers’ groups -and then there was the local arts cinema, the theatre, art exhibitions and friends to keep up with.

Somehow the novel did get written, but it took a great deal longer than I’d envisaged.

How did you start writing?

My mother wrote poems and stories for my sister and me when we were children. Before she was married she’d had poems published in a magazine called ‘The People’s Friend’ so I always thought writing was quite a normal thing to do.

I wrote poems that rhymed and had lots of thous and thees, Later I wrote more sophisticated ones, officially published in school magazines and unkind rhymes about teachers, unofficially passed round amongst my contemporaries.

I started stories but never finished them. I wrote plays for my sister and friends to perform But then I went to Oxford to read English and felt so intimidated by people who seemed so much cleverer and cooler than me that I more or less gave up writing anything original for years.

I never quite gave up the idea of being a writer however and eventually got up the courage to go on an Arvon course. Other courses followed and I joined a poetry group. I had a few poems published, got commended in competitions – even won one but I still wanted to write a novel.

What’s a typical writing day? Do you set yourself a word count?

I really don’t have a typical writing day. Life is fairly unpredictable and I write when I can.

With my first novel I had a break of about two years when I got totally stuck and started to write a family memoir. It was a life-writing class that started me going again.

Then I found a mentor and had to produce something every fortnight. That’s how the first draft was finished.

After that I became obsessed and wrote whenever I could sometimes for hours at a time, completely oblivious to anything else that was going on.

Now , with my second novel, I’m stuck again and this time am distracting myself by writing a play – I’ve just finished a ten week playwriting course – but the novel is going on in my head and I’m making notes.

Favourite place to write?

We live in a second floor flat and don’t have many rooms but, as it’s part of a Victorian house, they are quite big. I write in a corner of our bedroom under a velux window so it’s nice and light. I’m very happy there surrounded by books and files with a big table for my laptop and printer. The only disadvantage is I can’t work late at night if my husband wants to go to sleep

My children clubbed together to put up a summerhouse at the end of the garden that they hoped I’d use as a writing room but it’s a long way down to the garden; so I only work there when the weather is lovely and it seems a pity to stay indoors

Could you tell us a little about your novel “But I’ll remember this”

pamnixonI like to base my writing on real life and memory but when I was younger I thought my life was so ordinary it was of little interest. As I grew older ,however I began to realise that my time as a boarder at a girls’ high school in a provincial cathedral city in the mid-fifties was part of a vanished world. I wanted to recapture that world through fiction but I couldn’t think of a plot. Then I remembered that during my last year at school I’d longed for some interesting people to arrive and I thought, ‘What if they had ? As soon as I’d created charming Mike, his exotic wife Alithea and the pompous Hugh the plot almost wrote itself .

The story is written from the point of view of a young girl. Is it autobiographical?

Well it is and it isn’t. I did quite a lot to differentiate Dilly from my eighteen year old self , changing things about her background and appearance, but a great deal of her day to day experience was described from memory. Nobody interesting ever did appear in my life during that last year at school. However I have a lot of trouble convincing some people that I’m not still yearning for some lost love, who in fact never existed.

The older Dilly is a more successful poet than I am and my husband is not an academic and is not at all like Steve although he’s convinced Steve is based on him – actually he’s a bit more like Mike!

Are any of the characters based on real people – that you will admit to!

After the book was published I got an e-mail from a man who’d been a pupil at the Boys’ Grammar School in the same era. He wrote,
‘The most fictional bit is the passage on the title page which says “Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead or to businesses, companies, events, institutions or locations is completely coincidental. I was reminded of many people institutions and locations…”’

I did invent some people however – or half-invented them. The hero, Mike, for example, is based on anecdotes my then boyfriend used to tell me about his history teacher. After the novel was published another one of the ex-grammar school boys put me in touch with the real life history teacher ,whom I found, to my embarrassment, was still alive . He turned out to have come from a very different background than the one I’d invented for him. He wasn’t the son of a Welsh coal miner, but of a German, Jewish banker. He’d come over here on Kinder transport. Fortunately he was amused by the character I’d created.

So yes, a lot of the characters are based on real people or my interpretation of them.

The book is co-published, what did this involve between writing and publication?

3Score Publishing was set up by a friend of ours and my husband and I had been involved in it for some years.

A few years ago I’d become tired of a senior editor at a large publishing house telling me how, having been so impressed by the first three chapters of my novel she couldn’t wait to read the rest. She managed to resist the temptation for 5 months; so I decided I’d had enough and turned to 3Score.

My husband did most of the work preparing it for the printers as he has a background in IT. It was meticulously proof-read by another 3Score member who is a retired language teacher and our friend who set up the co-operative,had had a career in PR so helped with publicity.

I had some outside help. My sister did the painting for the cover which I then gave to a graphic designer. The marketing manager of Blackwell’s in the Broad in Oxford whom I know, offered me a book launch there. I managed to get 60 people to come that evening and it was a great success.

I’m not much good at social media and most of my sales come through word of mouth. Lately I’ve been giving talks to local W.I s on my novel and have sold a number through them.

What’s next, is there another novel in the pipeline?

As I’ve said I’m a bit stuck on my next novel at the moment.

The title is ‘A Passion for Dead Leaves ‘. It’s about the relationship between two sisters who, despite their strong affection for each other, have a rather strained relationship.

Part of it is set in Cyprus where we lived for 4 years during the 60s and one of the reasons I’m not progressing at the moment is that I’m doing some background reading about the politics of the time. I also need to find out something about RAF family life, the A level chemistry syllabus in the 60s and, later on, about coloured glazes on pots. In other words this novel requires more research than the first one.

In the meantime I want to finish my play, ‘Franglais’, which will be entered for a competition in January.

Thanks Pam.Good luck with the play, and your research for the next novel.

You can buy “But I’ll Remember This” from Amazon.

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Seeing the whites of their eyes

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Phil: Regular readers of this blog are probably a bit tired of our rattling on about the Stratford Literary Festival, I promise this will be the last time but I can’t resist telling the story from my point of view as you read Candice’s on Tuesday.

I arrived at the venue far too early, or so I thought. It was a cold and damp day and having perused the second-hand bookshops of Stratford, I decided to wander in to take a photo of the attractions board for the day. We were on it and I wanted a record of the fact in case it never happens again.

Seconds after I walked in however, a lovely steward called Gail asked if I was attending one of the sessions. I explained I was but as the bloke at the front. Suddenly I was hauled off to the green room. I protested that I really ought to wait for Candice but to no avail. There I was trapped in a room with cakes and wine – what could I do?

Anyway, there were official photos to be taken and the man with the camera used me to set up the lighting. That’s what he said anyway, it might just be that the dozens of shots were to find one in which I don’t look too stupid. Suffice to say the Nolan was only in the studio for a couple of minutes when she arrived.

My plan had been that we would run through our cue cards before the show. As it was, we got chatting to people and never quite managed this. Time came and were led down to the Drawing Room where we were to perform. As we settled at the front, I was received to see some people arrive in the audience. OK, not many but at least we didn’t have to scuttle off in ignominy.

Now, I’m used to presenting in front of people, but as was said last time, bigger crowds. When there are 50 people staring at you, it’s not possible to focus on a single person, unless they insist on sitting in the front row eating chocolate cake but that’s another story. With a small audience you can see all the reactions at once.

My plan had been to introduce our talk with a short (1min 32s – I timed it in advance) reading from the book that describes the scene where we were told the place was closing. As I did this, I felt myself warming up and had the terror that I was going bright red.

Eventually we settled down and the second problem appeared. The lack of cue card run through meant that neither of us knew when the other was going to stop. Add to that my ability to waffle for England and I had to keep reminding myself to let Candice get a word in. Fortunately, she is more than capable of interjecting and we quickly bounced between us, bantering like we do.

We’d thought that simply talking about us would be dull but as it turns out, people are interested in people. Our attempts to  stick in some stuff about writing as a team hopefully helped the lady who is struggling to complete a novel. Half an hour isn’t long once you get going though so we had to pack everything in. We wanted people to go away feeling they had value for money even though it was free.

Our small audience really enjoyed themselves and we handed out flyers to everyone – if you are reading this because of one, thanks for coming, you made our day!

Afterwards, it was back to the green room to collect our belongings and a bit more chat then we escaped to the HR Coffee bar, supplier of the excellent cakes for a calming cup of tea.

So, we’ve done it. A proper literary festival. They looked after us the same as any of the stars and for a few minutes we felt like real authors. If we one day make it big, part of this is going to be down to Annie and her team running the show. Oh, and Rupert Barnes who took the superb photos of us both in the green room and putting on a show – in which we actually look like real authors. We’ve got a taste for this, now we want more!

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