Tag Archives: planning

New shoots?

Conkers

Phil: Over a decade and a half ago, I planted a conker. There had been a big storm and many trees had been lost, so I did my bit to rectify matters.

This year, the tree that came up has delivered it’s latest batch of horse chestnuts, and I’ve planted a few of them to see if I can make more trees.

A few years after my green-fingered activities, another seed was planted. This time it was an idea and the fertile minds it germinated in were those of Candice and myself. From this, we grew two excellent books with a third starting to push its shoots up through the earth.

Anyway, autumn has arrived along with the arrival of conkers, our thoughts turn back to tending our next novel. Neither of us has made a secret that we’ve found 2020 especially hard. In lockdown we’ve manged next to no creative writing. Some people might have found their muse, I know all I’ve found is confusion.

We both feel hemmed in. At least my friend has managed to escape for a break followed by a pleasant staycation. I’ve either been really good and stayed put as we have been exhorted to, or rubbish and not taken the opportunities the relaxation of lockdown has allowed. While I don’t worry about “proper” holidays, sometimes I like to just get on a train and go out for the day staring out of the window and reading a book. Months of stern government instructions that public transport means death has dampened my enthusiasm for this to the extent that I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again.

Everything is weird, and listening to the news, I suspect it’s just going to get weirder for a while.

But I don’t want to send Book 3 to the literary compost heap. I care, we both care, about our characters almost like they are real people. Kate and Dave deserve a happy ending and the only way that happens is if we get our acts together and write it for them.

Anyway, as work precludes cake and a chat, we’ll just do the chat thing via video at the end of the week. There will be grumbling about some things and laughing about others. Hopefully a little of the magic banter we enjoy will come back. With a bit of luck, we’ll bully each other into getting on with writing and suitably fertilised, the little shoot will grow into a big, strong book.

Talking of books, I’ve finally ordered a couple of copies of our existing novels in their newly tidied up Amazon paperback format.

They look great – why not make our day and order both Kate vs the Dirtboffins and Kate vs the Navy – you need cheering up, let us do it!

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Why do authors need an editor?

Phil: A few weeks ago, I enjoyed some delicious home-made custard creams while listening to author Mike Gayle and his editor Nick Sayers courtesy of Kenilworth books.

With 15 books to his name, it was interesting to hear Mike explain what working with an editor entails, and why it is important. Despite being an editor myself, I’d never really understood the role played by someone with the same job title in fiction.

It turns out that the editor plays a big role in shaping and sharpening up the book. They read through and provide the fresh pair of eyes unavailable to a writer too close, and to invested in, the story.

The editor continually challenges the author. Do the characters work? Are there too many of them? Does the plot flag partway through? Does the thing even make sense?

All this after the publisher has shown enough interest in the manuscript to assign someone’s time to work on it.

Mike had worked with several editors in the past and credited all of them with improving his work. I can see how this relationship is important but also how easily it could break down if the suggestions were at odds with the original creative vision.

There’s a special skill in being the editor and managing a potentially fractious author. I did take the chance to ask exactly how things worked out if they disagreed. Sadly, neither would admit to an all-out fight (they both came across as really nice people) but I can imagine some egos getting in the way.  It must be especially frustrating being an editor if the writer keeps ignoring the advice offered.

For team NolanParker, I think we provide at least some of the editor services to each other. You’ll have read in past blog posts how we’ve disagreed with each other over plot points. It’s not always an easy situation, but we respect each other’s opinion enough to be able to get over this each time. After all, we both want our books to be the best they can.

 

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Time hurdles

2013 Nevada NIAA HS Track & Field / Reed Sparks Rotary Invitational / South Tahoe - Brandon Cramer - 300m Hurdles WinnerPhil: My life is full of “time hurdles”.

Let me explain. I look at my calendar when I’m busy and think “It’s OK. After such-and-such date/event, things will settle down”.

Each date or event is a “time hurdle”. Once I jump over it, things will be different. Hopefully better.

Time hurdles are fixed points on the calendar. Sometimes I can’t see beyond them. Not literally you understand, I’ll still book other things in and in my rational mind, I know that there will be days after the hurdle, it’s just that everything after that date has an air of unreality about it. I know they exist, but in a slightly etherial way as though I know, but don’t believe.

There are especially big-time hurdles.  Holidays, hospital appointments, big/serious work meetings, new jobs, weddings etc. I imagine those to look like the massive walls found in some showjumping events. Beyond these, the view is distinctly misty.

Most of the time though, the hurdles are smaller. I’ve just taken part in a show that required quite a bit of preparation. Now it’s over, the next hurdle is some filming work I need to get things ready for.

After this, I believe the rest of the month should be plain sailing.

But will it? As the hurdle gets closer, I find it easier to concentrate. My focus becomes laser-like. I imagine a horse feels the same heading towards a jump. I actually achieve more.

The plain sailing bit is where you need to keep a foot on the accelerator (yes I know I’m mixing metaphors, get over it) and get stuff done while the next hurdle is in the distance. I look forward to this coasting phase but know there are probably things I should be delivering. Things the approaching hurdle has permitted me to ignore for a while.

Does anyone else look at the calendar and feel like this?

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You gotta fight for your right to story!

Phil: Last week, we explained that neither of us (OK, mostly me) always get our own way when writing.

After the post, the discussion continued. I finished the first draft of the scene I was working on thinking it had been suitably adjusted to take into account my friend’s suggestions.

Apparently not. Or at least she fired back a few more. To be honest, I could see where she was coming from. The feedback made me ponder some aspects and we bashed a few e-mails back and forth. The details aren’t yet sorted out, but we both feel that fundamentally, the scene does what we need at that point in the story.

This might not sound fun, but I feel it’s an important part of our writing.

If you work on your own, the first useful feedback you’ll get will be from an editor. They will challenge you on plot points and the way the story runs. Then it’s up to you to fix things.

We don’t have this. For a plotline to appear in the book, it gets beaten around a bit. Some sections get more of the thrashing than others but the important part is we challenge each other, make each other think AND help with those thoughts. “I’m not sure about THIS, but what if we did THAT.” is a common phrase. We both present problems and solutions. Eventually, even we can’t tell who wrote each scene, which is how it should be.

Two heads are definitely better than one.

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New Year. New ideas. And cake.

Phil: We’re back!

A trip to a local farm shop cafe and we are stuffing our faces with cake, and talking about writing.

The thing is, our chat ranged far and wide – ending up with some new plans that now just need some polish. Candice has got her research head on and a page full of notes to look at.

Watch this space…

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I resolve to…

to doPhil: Since la Nolan provided some sensible advice on New Year Resolutions last week, I thought I’d better write mine down to see if they stick. 

1 – Do less work.

No, I’m not being lazy, it’s just that working from home in a job that is also one of my hobbies, the work can expand to fill the time available if I let it. Evenings, weekends, they can all disappear into a maelstrom of doing “stuff”. I need to be more disciplined – not just making sure I take breaks but when I am working, get stuff done. That means lots of planning, writing down clearly defined tasks and ticking things off once they are complete. I can be really focused, but can also drift hopelessly. More of the former and less of the later for 2019.

2 – Promise less

And hopefully, deliver more. Sometimes life can seem like an endless succession of spinning plates that you have to keep going. Jumping between projects is no way to deliver anything of quality and a quick way to disappointing everyone. I love the smell of a new project, it’s just that I’m hopeless at estimating how long it’s going to take me, or how I’ll fit it in with everything else. Better to say do a good job of a few things rather try to do everything and flounder. I’m even worse in my own time, there is a huge backlog of projects sitting in my store. Even if I gave up work completely, it would take years to work through them, but still, I’m “Ohh a shiny new thing” every time I go to a shop…

3 – Go out for more walks.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ll train for a marathon. That’s just setting myself up for a fall. I love walking and it’s good for me. I think I need to develop an appetite for podcasts to listen to as I wander.

4- Read more books.

I’m not too bad at this one so there’s a good chance it will stick. I’ve taken to my local library again in 2018 as I could be confident that I’d find books that suited my mood. There are some that come my way from friends and family, but if I’m not in the right frame of mind for them, I need to go and get the right book rather than not reading because I don’t fancy whatever is on the pile. I don’t really understand why, but if I have a good book on the go, I do seem to achieve more at the same time. Can anyone explain this?

5 – Read fewer magazines, or at least only those that I need to. 

It’s time to tackle the never-ending stream of magazines and periodicals that come my way. At a rough guess, I can see a dozen magazines a month. There’s no way I read all that lot. I need to flick through, read stuff that matters and bin the rest. That and cancel some of the subscriptions for publications that simply aren’t getting read at all.

6 – Sleep more.

Do I need to check Facebook just before I go to sleep? Probably not. Read a book for a bit until I’m properly tired and then get to sleep, that’s the best plan.  Things always look blackest in the depth of the night, so the less lying awake with my brain whirring away I end up doing, the better. Not just more sleep, but better sleep is on the agenda.

Hopefully, all this will allow me to write more novel – a project that I really care about and (mostly) thoroughly enjoy working on. I’m pretty sure a degree of flexibility will be required soon once the other half of this team gets back into the swing of things and we get back up to speed. I don’t want to get that look over the cake when I’ve not done my homework!

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Twas the night before Christmas

Image result for twas the night before christmas

Candice: An early post this week as it is the calm before the storm in the Nolan household.

  • Presents wrapped – check
  • Table laid – check
  • Timings list for food prep for tomorrow – started

I’m feeling more comfortable as the other half has taken the child off for a few hours to play with her cousins, giving me time to do all the last minute stuff.

The build-up to Christmas this year has been a strange one.  I am leaving work in January so that makes it strange, I’m not so involved in the 2019 planning, I’m starting to stay goodbye to be people who I won’t see again.  I didn’t even get to party in my usual manner as factors beyond my control meant that the glitter stayed in the wardrobe this year.  I’m hoping to make up for that on New Year’s Eve.

As Phil said, the writing in the last few months has taken a back burner as I have been concentrating on what I am going to do next job wise.  This change has been my chance to sit down and look at what I really want out of work.

I’m hoping to take a short sabbatical before the next big thing, and use that time to do some writing (and acting and decorating).  Though I don’t need that sabbatical to be too long.  One needs to buy shoes and handbags, don’t you know.

I’ll be writing about new year’s resolutions next time, though I have a list already building, but for now, I’m off to check if the turkey has started to defrost yet, and how long to cook the parsnips for.

Merry Christmas one and all, enjoy whatever Father Christmas brings you.

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Working from home means never taking a day off – but they can’t stop you dreaming

DSC00530“The office will be closed from lunchtime Friday, December 21st to Thursday, December 27th”

“I’m breaking up on Friday. Can you get your stuff to me a little earlier”

Phil: Ahh, the joys of working from home. Constant reminders that your colleagues will be enjoying some enforced lounging around, while you just see those days as an opportunity for plenty of uninterrupted work.

Christmas is a joy. Despite my friend painting me as a bit of a humbug, I really love the present giving part, the decorations and the cheesy festive music. It’s just that I like it to be weeks away and not looming toward me. All I see is deadlines that always seem to be tightened. Suddenly, you find yourself having to take into consideration other people’s holidays. Holidays that don’t apply to you.

Being able to work at a time to suit me is lovely, but I do miss the days when a bank holiday actually meant something and wasn’t just a vague idea relating to a day that was (for me) like any other.

I know I shouldn’t moan about this. Having seen the Nolan schedule, her festivities are planned like a military campaign. You can imagine a map with little models of child and husband being pushed around by people with long sticks – “14:00 hours, child enters stage left. 14:15 child says line in nativity play. We need to rendezvous before then…”

All this Christmas chaos means the writing has taken a back seat. A couple of weeks ago, I congratulated myself on building up a plot strand I’m working on to 7000 words. That’s where it has stayed since then.

But, this doesn’t mean progress has entirely stalled. I might not be typing, but I am acting the scene out in my mind. Once I find a gap in my schedule, I’ll be turning my mental picture into words. Thinking sessions can take place any time and anywhere. While driving or sitting on a bus. At 3am in the morning instead of worrying about how I’ll get everything done is a pretty good idea too.

Anyway, I need to go. Work to do and I haven’t bought a present for the Nolan yet…

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Going where no man has gone before

You were recently selected as a potential candidate for P.O.W.E.R. (Professional Organization of Women of Excellence Recognized).
Our organization provides a powerful network of women who will mentor, inspire and empower each other to be the best they can be. Women understand the need to connect with other like-minded professionals and the importance of added exposure.

Phil: I’ve been receiving this e-mail twice a week for at least a month. I’m not sure what their vetting procedure is, but I’m thinking that it falls at the first hurdle. Unless you consider the first hurdle to be, “Has an e-mail address” rather than gender.

While I’m happy to mentor, inspire and empower people, although “each other” sounds a bit like a cult, or an orgy, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be allowed in the door. A quick look at the website suggests that door would be in America anyway. The woman fronting the video on the home page looks a bit scary too.

While they have been busy spamming me, I’ve actually had women’s groups on my mind. At our last planning session, we decided it would be a good idea to send Kate, or lead character, to a local women’s networking group. It brings her into contact with people who can be both useful and entertainingly anoying. She has an ulterior motive, but the result isn’t quite the one she hoped for – but ultimately IS good for her. I’ll say no more or SPOILERS!

It’s a good example of how Team NolanParker works. After chatting with Candice, who has been to groups like this, I wrote the first few pages of story. They were OK, but I wasn’t really feeling it.

My words went over to the Noaln and a couple of days later came back much expanded. And improved.

I’d laid the foundations, which freed her to add all the good bits. Maybe the words needed a woman’s touch, or maybe I provided enough inspiration to get her creative juices flowing. Whatever, it worked.

I have been the only man working in an office-full of women, but I am not (despite what the P.O.W.E.R. network thinks) a woman and can’t always get into the right mind. That’s why writing as a pair works so well, I don’t know how anyone does it on their own.

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Boozing our way through the difficult third novel

Phil: Book 3 is proving tricky. We need our main character to go through a significant change during the story and it’s all going to be quite emotional.  To this end, we’ve not involved her much in the comedy strand, which has progressed quite nicely without her.

The trouble with this is, that we now need to work out her path through the book, and try not to make it either miserable, or unrealistic. There will be no lightbulb moments that aren’t the result of a bit of personal growth. Readers are not to think, “where did that come from?” when Big Moments happen.

So, we meet up in Ikea’s cafe. Not our normal place of “work” but someone needed storage boxes, and it’s not a long way out for me. In fact, on the way I managed to find an interesting shop and was involved in a chat about 3D printers when the “I’m in the cafe” text arrived instructing me to attend.

I had had the foresight to arrive by bus and so when choosing lunchtime supplies, realised that a little alcohol to grease the creative brain cells wasn’t out of the question. To whit, I grabbed a can of Cider Apple and some meatball based food. 0.1% ABV – no slouch me, a couple of these and I’d be outside shouting at pigeons!

After a bit of chat, we felt that it was time to move on. Most of Coventry had decided to bring their children in for the day to add a flourish to the end of the school holidays. That meant the normally tranquil restaurant was transformed into a scene of mayhem, not conducive to producing great works of literature.

Next stop – a pub. We do good work in pubs, but of course, you must have a drink.

My first thought had been tea, but when Miss Prim and Proper ordered lemonade, I changed my order to a shandy.

And it worked. We both feel this book is hard going. There are loads of scenes written, but the love story, apparently so easy on initial inspection, has turned out to be more complicated than we thought.

After an hour or so of debate and pondering, we are pretty certain we’ve nailed it. Some of the work we’ve done needs to be moved in the timeline, a few bits go in the bin. No matter, the plotlines are basically mapped out and they seem to make sense. Candice has written the bare bones of a pivotal scene and sent it to me for added comedy and fiddling.

We are on our way! Now, where did that traffic cone come from?

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