Tag Archives: plot

Death of a Bore

Phil: My pile of books to read has been going down and I found myself recently with a selection that while appealing, didn’t grab me. I felt the need for a proper novel with a story that I could fall into.

Dropping into my local library, I spotted Death of a Bore by M.C.Beaton on the shelves. As one of the dullest people you could wish to meet, I wondered if she was writing about me, and there is a picture of a steam train on the cover. Perfect. Out came the library card and the book came home with me.

First up, under the author’s name is “Author of the bestselling Agatha Raisin series”. I’ve heard of these but this book is from the Hamish Macbeth series of mysteries. I remember those, televised by the BBC back in the mid-1990s with Robert Carlyle in the lead role. It seems that this is so long ago, the more recent Raisin series, also televised a couple of years ago (but only on Sky so I haven’t seen it) is considered more of a selling point by the publisher.

Anyway, thanks to snow cancelling an event I was supposed to devote a weekend to, I decided to read the book in a day. The chance to do this rarely occurs but it’s lovely when you can devote the time to it. Proper relaxation.

Is the book any good?

Let me start by saying that Marion Chesney (M.C. Beaton) is a breathtakingly prolific author. There are 33 Macbeth books, 28 Raisin ones and 76 others according to Wikipedia. She is a writing machine!

So it’s no surprise that this isn’t the greatest work of fiction ever. I’ve read books with more depth, less clunky narrative and more polish. Characters are paper-thin much of the time and I didn’t really warm to Hamish much.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. That Hamish on the page bears no resemblance to Robert Carlye is a bit odd, but then Morse on the page isn’t much like John Thaw and people deal with it.

The style really reminds me of Agatha Christie. It’s a bit of a pot-boiler but who cares? I’ve tried to read books that were allegedly much “better” and gave up on them. This rattles along nicely and entertained me for a few hours. If you have a sunbed to lie on or just want to read for pleasure, its all good stuff.

Since the plot revolves around an authors murder and one of the things he does is inspire the local villagers to write, it’s odd that this has done the same for me. I think our books are every bit as well-written as Death of a Bore so there’s no reason that people shouldn’t enjoy them every bit as much as they obviously enjoy these.

Entertainment and inspiration. Not bad for a snowy Saturday afternoon.

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Simple stories = compelling narrative

Phil: A couple of weeks ago, I spent a Sunday afternoon in the Electric Cinema in Birmingham watching the 1973 film Westworld.

For those not familiar with this Michael Crichton written and directed film, the story follows a couple of guys heading off on holiday to the new and amazing Delos resort in 1983. Phenomenally expensive ($1000 a day!) they promise that “”Boy, have we got a vacation for you!”.

Indeed they have. Guests stay in either MedeivalWorld, RomanWorld or WestWorld, sharing the locations with incredibly lifelike robots who that can fight, kill or shag to their heart’s content.

This being a film, things go wrong. The robots develop some sort of virus (the first time this had ever been mentioned) and malfunction. Eventually, they kill all the guests except our hero. He finds himself pursued by Yul Brynner wearing the all-black costume last seen when he appeared in the Magnificent Seven. This time, he is an unstoppable robot gunslinger and the final third of the film is taken up with a chase around the park.

Brynner hardly speaks, or runs during this, making him a proper, menacing unstoppable force. I’ve seen the film before and it’s still edge-of-the-seat stuff.

“So, why have you illustrated this with a low-res picture of a dinosaur?”, I hear you ask.

Well, this screen grab comes from one of the greatest computer games of all time – 3D Monster Maze.

Launched in 1982 for the Sinclair ZX81 computer, the premise is simple. You are in a maze along with a T-Rex. You can’t see the beast, you have to run around and find the exit. If Rex sees you, he will give chase and probably eat you.

Since the computer was very basic, there wasn’t any sound. Instead, we had subtitles. The words “Rex has seen you” appearing at the bottom of the screen sent a shiver through the player as it was time to run or be dinner.

Graphics were low resolution as you can see, but it didn’t matter. Played in silence, this was properly spooky. OK, we weren’t used to first-person points of view in games back then but this just makes things more claustrophobic.

The game is really, really simple. But utterly addictive. You know what you’ve got to do and since there are only 3 keys for movement, how you’ve got to do it. It’s just you and a dinosaur.

Which is pretty much how WestWorld works.

We can put ourselves in the position of the “prey” in this particular hunt. The predator is unstoppable (Spoiler: In theory) but we will our hero to escape. Whatever plot holes there are (how are the guests stopped from fighting, killing and shagging each other rather than the robots in  MedeivalWorld and RomanWorld?) we cast them aside and get caught up in the action.

In fact, this is such a simple and effective plot that Crichton pretty much used it again in Jurassic Park (see, dinosaurs again) and James Cameron did it in The Terminator. I’m sure readers could suggest others. So, feel free to have a go in your novel too!

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Behind Her Eyes

Phil: Reading a book is often about the journey rather than the destination.  Plots can be summed up in a few lines and if you really want to know what happens, Wikipedia will probably fill you in.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough is an excellent case in point.

On the cover, something designed to look like a sticker (it isn’t) promises “The most shocking ending you’ll read all year”. The publishers have bagged #WTFthatending on Twitter. On the back, John Connolly entreats browsers to “Read it now before someone spoils the ending.”.

And that someone won’t be me.

The story revolves around single mum Louise who devoted her life to her son but finds that she needs to get back into the world of work. David is her new boss, but just before she meets him at work, the bump into each other in a bar and enjoy a furtive (an initially regretted) snog. In the early stages, the plot covers the embarrassment of having got off with someone you then have to work for and the uncomfortable situation this provokes.

Very quickly, we meet Adele, David’s wife. She befriends Louise but doesn’t know she knows David as anything other than a colleague. Louise is lonely and fascinated by Adele so she doesn’t say anything to David. Nor does she tell Adele her secrets about her husband.

And that’s about as much as I can tell you.

The story is great at gradually unfolding. The author never lies to the reader, but you are constantly changing your opinion of the main characters. This draws you in gradually until the book has to be consumed in great chunks of reading.

Everything is told from the characters point of view, with the chapter title explaining who’s eyes were are looking through. Just as in real life, each one has a slightly different take on matters. As a reader, we think we have a handle on the various duplicities, but do we? Adele says, “The truth is different to different people” and she’s not wrong.

You could skim this, jump to the end and find out what happened. That would be a mistake. Enjoy the journey.

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Christmas is here

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Candice: I’ve let Phil do most of the writing on the blog this year.  Being a parent and working full time does not allow a lot of time for thinking so I keep it for book writing and editing rather than blog writing.

But I felt we were  missing our traditional Christmas blog post about photocopying bums at Christmas parties.

The first book finishes with a Christmas party, and I still like the way that it opens.  I can still see dry ice and characters walking through the fog in a ‘Batman and Robin’ style.

I had my work’s Christmas party last week.  I can only just write this blog now as my head is still recovering.  I am not the best drinker so try to keep the alcohol intake to a minimum, this was not the case with my work colleagues who also decided that, as organiser of the Christmas do, I should have lots of free drinks as thanks.  One of those was a Jagerbomb…

I sloped off at midnight as I’d had a good two hours dancing and drinking since a lot earlier, I was an early bird compared to most.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Christmas party.  I pretty much always end up organising it, because no one else will, but it also means I have to spend a lot of time dealing with people asking stupid questions – what time does it start, how much is it etc.  But once the meal part is out of the way – ‘ herding cats’ is how a colleague described it, then I got what I really wanted. A chance to show that Mrs Demure in the office knows how to shake her butt.  Think more Tracey than Kate.

The other thing I had to organise was the Secret Santa, yet another herding cats experience.  However, I ended up with a well thought of present… a magic mug with that – when you put hot water in to it, the book appears.  Someone had been listening then.  So thanks to Secret Santa, I’m chuffed with it.

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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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Do TV adaptions kill book sales?

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Phil: As I watched the final episode of Strike – The Cuckoo’s Calling, I wondered about the sales of the book it’s based on.

Obviously, JK Rowling (writing as Robery Galbraith) isn’t worried about the royalties, but I’d certainly be interested to see how the sales fare. Surely, most of the joy of any whodunnit is trying to work out who the criminal is, and once you’ve seen it on telly then the secret is blown. OK, you might still enjoy the read but part of your brain is always going to be shouting, “The butler did it!” as the characters bumble arnound trying to solve the crime.

Or does knowledge of the outcome allow you to get on and enjoy the story?

(Note to broadcasters – This isn’t an issue for Kate vs the Dirtboffins, there’s loads more to the book than the whosdoingit aspect, which is why any adaption will be so succesful the other channels will just switch off to save electricity. Please start the bidding war for rights now.)

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Seeing things from the other side

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Candice: A while ago a friend of mine gave me a synopsis of an idea they’d had floating around in their head.  She professed to not having time to write it, but would I have a look and see if I thought it was worth exploring.

My view, any idea is worth exploring, and it sounded interesting to me, so I said go for it.

A few weeks ago she contacted me with a first draft, asking for my thoughts.  She’d asked me because I had experience in this area and was a ‘professional’ writer. Well, if the cap fits…

Reading someone else’s work is always hard.  I know that Phil and I struggled the first time we handed out pristine copies of book one.  We thought it was great, but we actually lost a few friends over some of the feedback.  So I gulped and dove in.

I’m not going to say much on my thoughts, I need to give them back to the author first.  But I can instantly some of the pitfalls that Phil and I fell in to when we did the first draft of book one.  And I can also see how much we have grown since we wrote the first Kate vs book.  The fact that I can see these things straight off shows we’ve learnt something.  We hope that is demonstrated with the feedback that we are getting on Book two, ie not a lot.

So, I shall carefully point out her where she can make things better and hope that she has another bash at something that is shaping into a good story.

But also go off and think about our marketing plan for Book two… more of that next week.

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