Tag Archives: reading

To the moon! (and back again)

Phil: I was reminded that a review of Andrew Smith’s book Moon Dust was overdue while sitting in a nearly empty cinema (10am showings are great if you want it quiet) waiting First Man* to begin. The thought almost persuaded me not to open my cinema treat packet of Maltesers.

The book charts Smith’s efforts to track down and talk to every man who has walked on the moon and see how the experience affected them.

We’re only talking about 9 people, 3 have already passed on, but the quest takes the author all over the world. I was fascinated by this – how did he fund his travels? I get the feeling that it was a side project to other work, but still…

Walking on another planet is, let’s face it, the most exciting and impressive thing anyone can ever do. There are many years of build-up, some terror as you sit on top of a bomb that will fire you into space and a huge job list from NASA once you arrive. All the time knowing that every single component in your equipment has been chosen because the person building it tendered the lowest price. You rely on a machine so complex that even if the  agency achieves it’s 99.9% success rate, several hundred parts will fail. There’s no intergalactic RAC to come and rescue you either!

Once you’ve splashed down, been hauled out of the sea and returned home, what do you do next?

The astronauts’ answers to this are fascinating. Some stay in the system fighting to get man back out into space and back to the moon or even Mars.

Others drop out and start painting as a way to try to make sense of the experience they have been through. Alan Bean cleverly includes dust from his space suit badge in his paints so everyone buying a picture owns a little bit of the moon. This doesn’t appear to be a cynical marketing ploy, more a way to convey the experience.

Along the way, there are insights into the world of the Apollo programme. Astronauts weren’t that well paid. They didn’t receive media training, even though they would become some of the most famous people on the planet. Wives were expected to be part of the show, but not get in the way. Space bases aren’t situated in bustling towns and Cape Canaveral was basically a swamp when they all first moved there.

This is a portrait of a very different world from the one today. It’s all history and not even recent history. Apollo was a bubble of optimism where the US, while bogged down in the Vietnam war, offered a chunk of the future. Kids who had grown up on science fiction thought they were seeing the first days of something great, little realising that a couple of missions in, the public would be so bored of the whole thing that the TV networks couldn’t be bothered to show landing live.

An enjoyable read, it probably helps if you are a little bit geeky and love space things as the author experiences the wide-eyed wonder of meeting his heroes. Some turn out to have feet of clay, but most are still clad in moondust.

*Review: Armstong is taciturn.

 

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Brave moves

Phil: According to the BBC, last week 10 years since the great financial crash. Banks were hastily thrown vast amounts of money, a few bankers lost their jobs and everyone prepared for financial Armageddon.

A couple of months earlier, I had thrown in my job with plans to travel and write and generally eat through a big chunk of my savings, treating myself to the gap year I’d missed out on because I didn’t go to university. Not that I’d have been brave enough to take that year of course, but I’d got old enough to think I might be ready for it 25 years later.

All this came back to me as I read  Take a Look at Me Now by Miranda Dickinson.

The story concerns Nell who loses her job as a planning officer and instead of plunging into the local jobs market, decides to take off to visit her cousin in San Francisco for a couple of months with her redundancy money.  She has a dream of running an American style diner in the UK and as luck would have it, ends up meeting a diner owner in the US who shows her the ropes.

Along the way, there is a dalliance with a hunky, grey-eyed artist and generally, a good time is had by all. So good in fact, that you have to get 2/3rds of the way through the book before there is any jeopardy. Redundancy aside, her life goes swimmingly the moment her feet hit US soil with a succession of happy coincidences. As a travel promotion for the city, it’s great, and you can tell the author fell in love with the place.

As with any chick-lit, all ends happily, especially for the publishers who surely have a potential sequel being written since the story couldn’t have ended in a better place for this.

To be honest, it’s light, pleasant reading. Undemanding and perfect for a sun lounger.

My biggest complaint is the cover, which has all the hallmarks of a designer keen to go to the pub. The story is set where? Well, put the Golden Gate bridge on. It’s about a youngish woman? Where’s that CD full of unconvincing clipart? Job done – let’s go.

Having said this, my own story also enjoyed a few happy coincidences. Jumping into the world of temporary jobs, I ended up working with Candice and when the place closed down, we found ourselves with lots of time and no work so started writing a book. Which became a series. And a lasting friendship.

Now if only we could get someone to sign up to turn them into a major feature film, this really would read like a book…

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Why I’m STILL rubbish at holidays

Phil: As Candice mentioned last week, I’ve been on holiday. No jet-lag this time, since it was on the (mostly) sunny Isle of Man.

Now back home, I have several bags of souvenirs, lots of photos and a few videos. The week was great, but not perfect.

My plan had involved running around the island (not actual running, travelling on the train, tram or bus obviously) visiting things and meeting people. Evenings were to be spent backing up my photos then doing some writing. In my imagination, I’d have a relaxing hour most evenings hammering away at the keyboard, producing vast amounts of hilarious plot for our third novel. I might even have promised by writing other half this.

I’d also catch up on my reading. Two books went in the bag.

Now I’m back home, it’s time to admit I failed. Total written – 432 words.

And those novels, I never opened them. I did read 1/4 of a book picked up from the apartment “library” and most of the local newspapers but only in snatched moments.

As da kidz would say, “Epic FAIL”.

They would also go on to explain that I am suffering from FOMO – that is the Fear Of Missing Out. I pre-pack my week with stuff and don’t leave space for unexpected things, or just to relax. I want to see everything and be everywhere. No time to chill, all there is is the idea that when I get home I’ll be thinking, “Why didn’t I do that as well”  – pretty much what Dr Candice diagnosed a few weeks ago. At least her smug “I woz right” feeling will help counter the “Where are the WORDS you promised Parker?” grumbling.

Now I need a break to recover!

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Why Mummy Drinks by Gill Sims

Why Mummy Drinks: Sunday Times Bestseller ebook by Gill Sims

Candice: I have mixed feelings about this book. I loved the title – it’s what caught my eye when Phil and I were doing some work the other week on polishing our Amazon entry and looking at books that we would like to be listed by.

So, I bought it, and reading the blurb on the back about a Mummy struggling with balancing job and life who has an idea the might help solve her problems, it sounded interesting. With her job being in IT I had an idea what that idea might be, but hey I’m too good at solving plot lines.

I started the book and immediately got annoyed with the main character. She reminded me of the woman in the TV show ‘Motherland’ who supposedly holds down a high-powered job in PR but also makes a tit of herself on a regular basis – saying and doing the wrong thing. I understand some of that chaos, I am currently writing this in a notepad while my daughter is doing her swimming lesson, I had to borrow a pen as the one I packed seems to have disappeared and I’ve got toothpaste on my top (not mine). #multitasking

The style also annoyed me as its written in a diary style and initially its very staccato and frantic and you just want her to take a Valium. However, as the book develops (and the writing style slows down) I found a lot of truth in the story (too much in some cases). The arguments over who’s turn it is to look after the kids, whose job is more important, etc are too close to the bone. And her thinking about trying to find time for yourself.

But by the end, I’m slightly jealous of her as she invents a game which becomes a global sensation, and in the end, brings her together with everyone who she thinks isn’t on her side. The game is about trying to get the kids to school, and the working vs non-working mummies at the school gates and all the other fun stuff. I’ve already had a snapshot of that with nursery and school fun starts soon. But the other mummies actually are jealous of her working. At the finish, she has money, drinking buddies and it even smooths her relationship with her husband as money is always the other worry in a working family.

The book is funny, and though annoying at times I did enjoy it. If you are a working parent, male or female, it might make you think about some of those snappy conversations you have with your other half.

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The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

Phil: Three things can be guaranteed to put me off a book:

  • It’s set in wartime, or involves a war.
  • The Daily Mail likes it
  • Someone has made it into a feature film and this is on the cover

A fourth one is that the book is described as “An International Bestseller” – I’ve been caught out before by that one. Just because lots of people bought something doesn’t mean I’ll enjoy it. I’m looking at you Girl on the train.

So I approached TGLPPPS not really expecting to get very far. To be honest, if I’d given up a couple of chapters in, that would have been par for the course.

Faced with a long train ride, I stuck the modest-sized book in my bag. One return from Leamington to Brighton later, I’d read the whole thing and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The book centres on author Juliet Ashton, a wartime “gel” who wrote a funny column in the press and a somewhat more serious book about the Bronte sisters. The war is just over and she is suffering from writer’s block but out of the blue, someone from Guernsey writes to her and a correspondence ensues.

The book is written as a series of letters and this propels the story along with a bit of pace. The reader has to suspend disbelief a little at the shortness and speed of delivery of some, but we let it go for the sake of the plotline.

In many ways, this is chick-lit. There is a love story. We can spot the ending a mile off, but this doesn’t matter.

Subtley slid into all the fluffy stuff is a description of life in the only part of the British Isles to be invaded during the war and have to exist under Nazi occupation. The history has been well researched and there are a few gruesome bits along with allusions to worse.  This matters as without it, the story could easily have been some bumbling locals and a smart London girl.

Weirdly, I also want to see the film. I really don’t see how you adapt a book made of letters – but I’m keen to know.

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Holidays why bother…


DSCN1663Candice: 
Phil’s told me I should respond to his blog post about holidays.  I definitely NEED to respond to it or else a lot of holiday companies will be shutting their doors over the next few weeks as people start to question the reason for having a break.

I think my writing partner has missed the point of a holiday,  but that might be because of the type of holiday he takes.

Phil: working holiday, lots of photos and films, sometimes talking about trains, lots of exploring, not really enjoying the whole flying thing.

Candice:  and relax….. beach, pool, sunbed, sun, a round of breakfast, sun lounger, lunch, sun lounger, dinner, cocktail and then bed before doing it all again the next day.  There definitely has to be sun, books that I can spend time enjoying, sights to see but not too many that it takes away from the relaxing.

There is one change to the Nolan holiday in the last four years, the inclusion of kids club and mini disco.  The second is almost more important than the first for the family addition, it’s the first thing she asks for when we get on holiday.  The funny thing is we’ve been to Cyprus and Mexico in the last six months and they have played mainly the same songs!

I suppose my need to have at least one booked comes down to a few things.  There is more to life than work and my holidays are my release from the constant round of nursery drop off, work, meetings, gym and week upon week feeling the same.  I love the heat and get terrible SAD so need to know I’ve got a chance to get some sunshine under my belt when the UK doesn’t comply. And I always like to get something new out of these trips, visit somewhere I haven’t been, have an experience I haven’t done before. You cant see Chichen Itza in the UK.

And yes there is the whole build-up to the event: packing, planning, dieting but I have the luxury of working for a big company so don’t have quite the same pressures as Phil (i.e. someone to cover my role), and then there is the full inbox on return, but I wouldn’t give up having a holiday for anything, there’s more to life than those emails.

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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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