Tag Archives: quango

And relax….

Image result for hung parliament

Candice: I hope that you are all relaxing and enjoying the Easter break.  In the UK most of us get Friday and Monday off as bank holidays and its time to relax, spend time with family, and catch up but without any of the pressure that comes with buying presents at christmas.

So I’ve done some gardening (before the non-stop rain arrived), done a big food shop and been to the gym so its time to sit down and find out what James Bond film is on and get a glass of wine on the go.

But there is also something else big going on in the UK.  They have announced the date for the next general election, five years since the last. Five years ago Phil and I would have also been relaxing this weekend as, Easter was over the same weekend, without really knowing what was going to hit us in the next few weeks.  Coming back from Easter Gordon Brown dissolved Parliament and then called for a General Election.  At the time we were minding our own business ticking over at a Labour set up Quango designed to promote technology in Education.  We’d already worked out that we had a similar  sense of humour and if I was in the office I’d try and sit near Phil, but little did we realise what was coming next.

So on our return from Easter all hell broke loose as new government potentially meant no job.  This didn’t bother Phil and I quite so much as we were only contractors and at some point wouldn’t have a job full stop, but for the rest of the staff who had been ticking over this would mean the end of the world.

So on May 6th there were a lot of people watching the TV screens in the office when the announcement was made.  An audible gasp came when it was discovered it was a hung Parliament and that they didn’t know who would be in power.  More time to have to wait and see what would happen next…

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Farewell Michael Gove, the man responsible for our book

goveyPhil: If you’ve seen any UK political news this week, you’ll know that the Prime Minister has re-shuffled his cabinet. One of the main casualties is the education secretary, Michael Gove. This is a momentous moment for us as it to him we owe our career as novelists.

Back in the heady days of 2010, both Candice and I were contractors at Becta, an education quango. If I’m honest, we weren’t the biggest fans of the place but it paid well and with some careful booking of hot desks, we were able to sit opposite each other for banter.

The month before the election, the place entered a state known as “purdah”. All government bodies do this and put simply it means that we publish absolutely nothing during the election period so as not to influence the outcome. It’s all about stopping sudden newsworthy announcements boosting the incumbent parties fortunes. Work still carried on, we just didn’t do anything with it. I was still making web pages and Candice planning marketing magic, albeit with less oomph than before.

Anyway, the election happens, we sit around waiting for a government to be formed and when it is, the first thing the new education minister does, even before tucking in to the departmental tea and biscuits, is announce that Becta would be closed down.

Obviously this meant that our work was done. The permanent staff started to head in to meetings about the redundancy process. We contractors just sat around and chatted. Since we only got paid when we turned up and we liked being paid, we had to be in the office. There was just nothing for us to do.

This carried on for a month until the management board could meet and make decisions. Then we bumbled on until our contracts were terminated.

Chatting with other contractors one sunny lunchtime, we joked about setting up a “change management” firm to take on closing all the quangoes due to be shut. From this, the two of us started forming a story with this as the background. Some of the stuff we’d just been through made it on to the page in a fictional setting and we added and embellished other parts. Daytime was for chatting, mostly by e-mail as it was a bit off the wall although people wondered what we were laughing at sometimes. Every day, one of us would come in with some new words written the evening before.

Eventually, we were turfed out to find other jobs but by that point The Book was born and we weren’t going to stop there.

Would we have started without Mikey Gove’s actions?

If I’m honest, I doubt it. We’d probably have finished our contracts and gone our separate ways. Thanks to Facebook, we’d stay in touch but this common project unlocked the desire to write fiction in both of us. Now we spur each other on and will one day see our story out there.

So, farewell Michael Gove. You’ve gone off to whip the Tories. I suspect at the time, you were happy to punish a load of people for working for an organisation you didn’t see the point of. You couldn’t know that you cemented a friendship and lead to the birth of a book.


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Happy Birthday WWW

"25"Phil: Yesterday was the World Wide Web’s 25th birthday.

Doesn’t time fly when you are having fun?

I remember working for the ministry of cows and cobbling together a laptop PC, fax modem and Compuserve CD to get on-line for the first time. I logged on in glorious black and white (the best the laptop could do) and then wondered, what do I do next?

A colleague with an X-File obsession suggested we look to see what the was on her favourite TV show and since she ruled the typing pool with a rod of iron and I needed to get export certificates through there in less than a month, I had a quick search. Downloading the pages took ages and when we saved them to a floppy disk and transferred them to a colour PC, the results were a bit rubbish, but it didn’t matter. This was the future.

A few months later, having been made redundant, I spent hours at the local library using their single web-connected computer to surf. Inspiration was provided by a Yellow Pages of web sites. Literally a printed book listing sites under different categories. Even then it was a fat publication.

Two years later, it was suggested I take over the company website because I was publishing a magazine so I knew about pictures and things. A couple of days later I had learned enough HTML from a book to finish the launch of our commercial arm’s website. Nerdy types will shrink in horror at the way we used tables and even frames to lay out content, some of which was animated GIFs, something I still thin are pretty neat even if I know them to be considered as dated as drop shadow (If you have no idea what I’m on about here, don’t worry).

The web has made a huge difference to authors. No longer do I submit articles on paper, floppy disk or CD. Everything flies around using electronic magic. On the other hand, if I wanted to waste time on the computer, I played Solitaire until I (quickly) got bored. Now there is an infinite supply of procrastination accessories.

More importantly, it has made the e-Book possible. Can you imagine this taking off if it weren’t possible to download the words? Would anyone want to carry the Kindle to the book store to pick up the latest novel?

Of course, most importantly, without the WWW, the great writing team of Nolanparker would never have met up in the first place. I wouldn’t have been employed to look after the website at a quango where I met my friend. Who knows where or what we’d have ended up doing? You wouldn’t be reading this, but then without the web, there would be no websites or WordPress either.

Yes, Tim Berners-Lee made the world a different, and I think better place. Here’s to the next quarter century.


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Writers – what is your “peg” ?

Story in Solihull NewsPhil: A few nights ago I found myself with time to read some of the articles in the Writers and Artists Yearbook. You know what? They are really interesting? Not just fillers between the lists of addresses we want but good solid information for aspiring authors.

Since I’m in charge of submitting The Book to agents, I was particularly taken by the piece written by marketing consultant Alison Baverstock called “Helping to Market your book”. It’s an area that is an anathema to most writers it appears, but one that Mrs Marketing and I have discussed over cakes many times.

One of the most important points is to provide a “peg” to hang your story on. Not the book, that’s a given, but that detail a journalist can use to base their article around. “I have written a book” isn’t it – we’ve all done that, go away and find something interesting to talk about. You need a story as well as your book.

Team NolanParker have a couple of angles we plan to work.

First, there is the (apparently) very unusual team writing aspect. Odder still, we are a man and woman writing together. People ask how this works (quite well), do we really agree on stuff (not always but we can stand criticism from each other and sometimes it produces new ideas), do we split the chapters up (yes but then we work on each others) and how did we come up with the story?

The last question takes us to peg number 2 – the “How we met up” story. Ours is a tale of unexpectedly finding ourselves sharing desk space and having no work to do while being part of a quango in a death spiral. We were in the middle of an age of austerity story and so we wrote an age of austerity book. With added love and buckets of laughs.

All this should give anyone interviewing us some material to work with. After all, the recession is till happening. People still like a laugh.

That’s our “peg”. What’s yours?


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Centennial post

http://www.flickr.com/photos/koadmunkee/5827461988/Phil: According to WordPress, this is the 100th post on the nolanparker blog so it seems apposite to have a quick summary of the current position.

First up, we were made redundant from a quango. At this point sensible people would run around like headless chickens panicking. We went to lunch.

Over sandwiches and probably cake, we came up with an idea for a story and since we had very little better to do, started writing. Eventually it became long enough to become a book. We thought it was entertaining and maybe lots of other people would think the same. We also thought that being as rich as JK Rowling would be good fun. Lots of other people think that as well.

In an effort to prove we weren’t deluding ourselves, copies of the story were turned into book form and passed to test readers sometimes refered to as crash-test dummies. Mostly, they agreed that what we had was pretty good and where they didn’t we’ve taken the criticism on board and fixed it. The second round of testing even elicited a “I couldn’t put it down” from one of our more challenging readers. Obviously praise hasn’t been universal. One of the reader decided to give birth rather than feedback but you can’t please everybody.

The people we have yet to please all seem to work in the world of publishing. There have been polite rejections but mostly an absence of responses. Another round of submissions is on the way on the basis that if we write to everyone then at some point, some one has to give in and at least ask to see the complete manuscript don’t they ?

Anyway, progress has stalled a bit recently thanks to other commitments and excess mucus in one of our noses. We’ve found a new meeting point though and are bashing ideas around again. Book 2 will be thrashed out and then written in the new year. We already have the first few pages and a plan for the rest. There will be conflict, love, disaster and lots of laughs.

So, as they say in the movies, watch this space.

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Finding a writing catalyst

Olly ?How do you start to write ?

A little while ago I riffed about the problems I was having finding motivation. At the time I was trying to put together a book synopsis and desperately wanted some of our cake-powered banter to shine from the page. You will be pleased to know that this was achieved, passed to Ms Nolan, and promptly torn apart and re-written to become even better. In business world you’d call this (well I would anyway) putting up something to shoot at. The idea being that if you give people a blank page the possibilities are endless and the results patchy. Produce something that is in roughly the right ball-park (I can do buzzword bingo too) and this aims everyone’s creative juices in the same sort of direction and the original idea gets refined to perfection. Even if it’s wrong, it acts like the bamboo canes on an allotment, guiding the runner beans of ideas in something like the same direction.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that I wrote some stuff, Candice refined it, I refined it again and so forth. But without the original draft we wouldn’t have got anywhere. That first page of words was a catalyst.

Which brings me to this post. I’ve been pondering the contents on and off all day. There are a few subjects jotted down on a list, but one of them is a big announcement that needs me to do a bit more work, others don’t feel right for today. The thing is that despite all this pondering, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to write until I started hitting keys.

For me to work I need a catalyst that allows the ideas to germinate.


noun /ˈkatl-ist/
catalysts, plural

  • A substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change
  • A person or thing that precipitates an event
    • – the governor’s speech acted as a catalyst for debate
  • A lyst of cats

The first catalyst for this book is of course my co-author.  When we get together to discuss ideas, what start as a fairly basic premise can grow exponentially, especially if there is tea available. Those weeks spent firing e-mails back and forth at the quango got this book going and without them neither of us would have written anything like it. They say everyone has a book inside them but giving birth to it is another matter. When there are two of you it’s a whole lot easier. That’s probably why babies have two parents.

The other catalyst for me is a computer. While I can plan on paper, what I really need is a keyboard and screen to draw the words from me. It doesn’t matter what I write, blog posts, articles, presentations or great works of fiction, the action of punching those keys seems to tap into the seam of ideas. Maybe it’s muscle memory – my body knows that typing leads to finished articles and so requires it before my brain can really do the detail of a piece. You probably think this is odd, but then for many years I could only remember my PIN when faced with a cashpoint, which was a real b****r when I started using chip’n’PIN cards – so maybe I am odd.

Whatever, it works for me, so what works for you ?


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Killing Change Managers

Another day, another cake. In this case some Marks & Spencer Millionaire shortbread which comes in nice little squares that simply demand you have more than one; especially when you are drinking as much tea and yakking for as long as we were.

The subject was the term “Change Manager”, a term that describes an individual or company who descend on another company to manage significant alterations to the organisation. Basically, they turn up to close the place down.

It’s not a phrase I’d heard before, but just over a year ago while we lunched with another contractor employed at our inspirational quango, she mentioned it and started to tell some funny stories. This was in many ways the genesis for the entire book, which is why “Change Management” has stuck in every synopsis and short description we’ve produced to date. Whenever we describe Kate’s firm, they are Change Managers.

The problem is that every time either of us describes the book to anyone, something we try to do at every opportunity, it always starts “The main character is a career woman called Kate Smith. She’s got her own Change Management company” and the words stick in the throat. While this might be the correct term, it’s not in common usage and sounds dreadfully clunky – you can almost hear the thump as it hits the floor every time it leaves your lips.

So, Change Management will get a brief look-in in the text, but we’ll just gloss over exactly what they do and if required employ the more common term “Management Consultants”. People have heard of them and best of all, not in a positive way, which is sort of what we want. If you are to identify with the people at HIA who are being change managed from open to closed, then it helps if we lumber the team coming in to do this with a negative term. After all we all hate management consultants don’t we ? Unless you are one of course, in which case, stop reading this and concentrate on steering your BMW before you hit something !

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PR and a missed opportunity

Phil: The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that this blog has a new picture at its top. This is the result of a session with the camera last week. We returned to the scene of the crime quango to get some pictures of ourselves with The Book and hopefully, the old name boards and building.

This isn’t some weird ego trip, it had a serious purpose. Since everyone and their dog seems to be touting a book around publishers and agents, we need to stand out from the crowd and with that in mind, plan to generate some press interest. Candice has knocked up a press release (I make it sound easy but it probably requires hours of pained work honing every single word to perfection). Local press likes pictures, preferably ones with people faces in so we have to appear in front of the camera.

The big quango building has been taken over by a new quango so that wasn’t any good, but the old buildings were the ones we actually worked and they still had the appropriate signs. Camera on tripod, I spent an hour setting the self timer and running around to get in the shot. As well as building shots we took a few stock items including one of us sitting back to back on the grass. This seemed like a good idea except that I nearly flattened my colleague at the first attempt as I sprinted around to get into place. Handy hint for anyone planning the same thing – get the skinny one to do the running to reduce the chance of injury.

Anyway, the pictures turned out OK except I have two expression when asked to smile in front of a camera – glum or grimace – so I need to work on that a bit. Look out for the story soon in your local rag.

However all this might not have been necessary if we hadn’t missed out on a golden PR opportunity. I don’t blame myself of course, I’m a web guru apparently so can’t be expected to spot these things until too late.

It appears there is a big wedding in London on Friday. And to cover it there are lots of media types hanging around Westmister Abbey. And they are bored. After doing the “Here we are in Londonshire, England and look at the old buildings” bit, cameras are being pointed at any numpty who looks British. I noticed this on seeing a bloke who’d been camped out on the pavement since Wednesday being interviewed.

Now, if we had nipped down there with sleeping bags and a tent, NBC, ABC, Fox et al, could have had an interview along the lines of:

Permatanned interviewer: So, here we are on the streets of Londonshire waiting for the wedding of Prince Williams and Lady Kat of England. I’m talking to a couple of keen royalists who have already grabbed their spot in front of the church. Tell me, what are you doing while you wait to see the happy couple ?

Candice (also tanned but not as orange): Oh I just had to be here to see Kate. The dress will be spectacular I’m sure.

Phil (interrupting): While we wait we thought we’d write a book. [Waves book]

Candice: Yes, it’s a love story just like Will and Kate’s. We are just looking for a publisher. If you see our sleeping bags, they have a web address of our bolog where you can read more. Let me read it for people in Ohio, www dot nolanparker dot co dot uk

Interviewer: That’s great. More after these words from our sponsors.

As I say, a missed opportunity.

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Pole dancing in the office?

Candice: Yes really, we were pole dancing in the office, it was a very progressive place, this quango.

No, seriously, back in the time line of how this little beauty of a book  came about there were some very weird situations. 

Once we got in the flow of writing, ideas came thick and fast, some of them autobiographical and some I have no idea where they came from but they just popped into my head. 

So Phil and I would be writing chapters at home and then emailing them to work for the other to critique.  Sometimes, due to the fact the company was closing down and work was getting thin on the ground, we could crack on with editing and doing some writing in the office.  Being a progressive company we were allowed to wear iPods, and once the Pod went on I’d disappear into the world of KOD never to be seen again.  In fact the number of times an email came in to do some work and I’d be like, “Hang on, I’m right in the middle of something, and now you want me to do some WORK!”

So imagine the surrealness, sat in an open plan office of about 40 people, who are in differing states of depression due to the fact they have just been given their marching orders, and you are chortling in the corner because you’ve written a cracking line or Phil’s sent a suggestion over.

The number of times I had to pretend I had something stuck in my throat, “No I’m not laughing, honest!”

So, we come to the pole dancing.  To create tension, Kate has a love interest, Dave, her old university flame; but a co-worker takes a fancy to him too.  Now imagine Tracey, we all have one in the office; office flirt, likes to wear minimal clothing what ever the weather or situation, and if you see a man you like, she wants him too!   But our Tracey has a taste for clothes from net a porter, due to her inheritance, and for tequila.  One too many and she’s pole dancing for Dave. 

So I’m busily writing this situation and around me people are making tea, discussing office politics and getting more documents printed.  Too bizarre for words!

Of course there would be cake too – as that always helped the creative processes.  Today’s representation is from yumm in Zellig at the Custard Factory – topped with a red nose to celebrate comic relief.

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