Tag Archives: reading

Back to work under the gaze of Mariah Carey

Phil: Regular readers will be pleased to know there were no fights in team NolanParker last week in Birmingham last week.

No, we met up in the Museum cafe and enjoyed some excellent tea, cake and chat. As Candice said last week, our problem is that we have more projects than time and this means none of them is making any headway. We need to focus on one, get it down and then move on to another.

First, we focused on eating cake – result – cake was eaten. Well done us!

Next, there was a look at our writing ambitions.

We’ve got 2 books out and a third half-written. But, and it’s a big but, we’ve never been entirely happy with the first one. There’s nothing really wrong with it, the story and jokes are excellent, but it didn’t seem like a finished and polished package.

Kate vs the Navy benefitted from a proper proof-reading. Kate vs the Dirtboffins was proofread, but not nearly as well. Some things you just have to pay for, instead we relied on our (then) publisher.

So, Book 1 has been sent off for proofing and we received the results a couple of weeks ago. As ever, Katherine has done a superb job. We learned a lot about our own book from the list of characters and locations in the accompanying notes. She also complimented up on some aspects of our writing.

But, this still leaves a huge number of changes to be looked at from tiny punctuation marks to sentence tweaks to pick up the pace. Someone has to go through these and I volunteered that someone better be me.

So, last Saturday I grabbed a seat in my local library. Candice being unavailable to supervise me, Mariah Carey stood in for her.  You’d never know them apart except that MK is older. And on a bag of crips. (No, I don’t know why)

I thought a good day we see this done. It wouldn’t, Katherine has been far too thorough. 6 hours and a second location with cake later, I’m only at chapter 10. That’s about 1/3 of the way through the book. After that, I’ll be left with the bigger changes that will need the full team to discuss.

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The Muse by Jessie Burton

Image result for the muse

Candice : I’ve just come back from a lovely week sunning myself in Gran Canaria.  The holiday hit all the usual Nolan criteria – sun, tick (though it took a day or so to appear), pool tick, mini disco, tick and happy child, tick.

We’ve been to Gran Canaria before when she was a bit younger, and I’ve also been when I was hitting the club 18-30 world.  Its a great for guaranteed sun but, to be the honest, its a bit characterless.  Being a volcanic island, they have to import sand from the Sahara to make the beaches yellow not black and its so small you can get from one side to the other in about an hour.  The other half and I discussed holiday options for our next trip and decided we wanted more character – but that’s another post for another time.

However, the sun and pool options meant that I did have time to crack open the odd book and get on with some reading.  I’d struggled to have time to pop somewhere to get a book before this hols so had ordered some of Amazon.  Its harder to pick that way because you do need to have an idea of what you want to read or an author in mind.  I picked Jessie as I’d read ‘The Miniaturist‘ the other year and had really enjoyed it.  It was quirky and different, not my usual read but I was hooked all the way through the twists and turns of the strange story.

‘The Muse’ was similar.  A strange premise of a woman who comes across a painting which has a complicated history.  Set in the 30s and 60s the story twists between the discovery of the painting and the actual painting of it.  But its more than that as it touches on what it is like to be a person of colour in the UK when that is frowned upon, the impact of war on a country and how deceit leads people to do strange things.

In brief, Odelle comes to the UK from Trinidad, degree educated she struggles to find a job until she is taken under the wing of Marjorie, second in command at prestigious art gallery.  Odelle meets Lawrie, who’s once rich family are now struggling after the death of his mother, he has been only left a painting in her will.

The painting weaves a tale of a Foreign diplomat and Art Seller in war besieged Spain, where his wife and daughter are trying to fit in.  His wife struggles with depression, his daughter a gifted artist who is ignored by her father.

The daughter falls for one of the servants who is also an artist and through a twist of fate (orchestrated by the artist’s sister) her painting is represented as his to her father.  Fame and fortune follow for the man, but he doesn’t want to take the glory of his girlfriend’s work.

War breaks, and the family and artist are separated and some end up back in the UK, with the final painting in their possession.

When Lawrie shows the painting to the gallery it causes uproar, an undiscovered work by this celebrated artist.  But all is not as it seems and Majorie becomes cagey, Odelle thinks she is hiding something about the painting.

The story twists and turns nicely, with an added plot twist I thought I’d worked out but wasn’t quite what I expected.  The book is well written, and unlike other stories where it moves from different story lines I didn’t struggle to keep up with who is who.

Being able to read it over a few days definitely helped but one to recommend.

 

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Where do character names come from? Is that me?

Phil: Where do the names of your characters come from?

I was idly flicking through Jack the Station Cat and the Snail Trail recently, when I spotted that one of the characters was Mr Parker.

That’s odd, I thought. Could that be me?

I’m not sure when author Alan Cliff wrote this book, but we have corresponded by e-mail a while ago on one of his non-fiction books. Maybe he was searching for names and our chat inspired him to pluck mine out of mid-air.

I suppose I could ask, but I think I’ll just stick with the warm feeling that it might be me.

 

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The Guilty Party by Mel McGrath

The Guilty Party: Dive into a dark, gripping and shocking psychological thriller from bestselling author Mel McGrath by [McGrath, Mel]

Candice : I bought a collection of books from Sainsburys before jetting off to a lovely holiday to Majorca earlier in the summer.

As it always the way, and what happens when you buy books from a supermarket, the selection was limited to chic lit or crime drama.  I picked this one up because it looked a little different.

The premise is built around four friends who meet at university and then stay connected over the next ten years. Their lives change – one gets married and has a child, one comes out as gay, one becomes wildly successful as a business man, and one gets left behind.  But they have something that ties them all together, they are all serially unfaithful to their partners and keep a record of their relationships by photographing their conquests naked and posting pictures on a shared ‘black book’.  Their appetite for competition and  being sexual predators drives them to stay in touch even though, by the time we enter their lives, they don’t seem to really like or trust each other.

The story is held together with a central premise; they have all been to a festival and on their way home a fight breaks out, in the ensuing melee they see a girl being raped.  The next day she turns up dead, drowned in the Thames.

Meeting a month later one of the party is unsure that the story she has been spun by her friends about the rape is the truth, she wants to tell the police what she has seen but they are reluctant to spill the beans. Why, she is doesn’t know but as the weekend in a remote house unravels it seems that each member of the party had more to do with the deceased than it first seems, and each has something to hide which informing the police would expose.

The book is hard to read as it flits between the view points of each of the four characters, and both past and present, so you struggle to keep up with what is going on unless you read it in long stretches.  It also struggles with empathy, as each character is exposed as someone is isn’t that likeable; the play each one off against the other, and don’t seem to care about anyone else but themselves.

Many years ago I read ‘Gone Girl’ and felt a similar way about that book. I read it to the finish as I wanted to know what happened with the characters, but I didn’t really like any of them or care that much what happened to them.  This seems to becoming a more prevalent style of writing, both in novels and TV shows, where every character is so flawed you don’t particularly want to root for them.  I recently watched ‘The Affair’ and felt this too.  It probably gives a truer version of the world, but I’m not sure I want to see it.  I want escapism not nasty reality.  I can watch the news for that.  I’ve got no doubt however that this book will get optioned soon as it seem to fit with what TV and film producers are looking for these days.  I don’t think I will be watching.

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Nice work

Phil: When we go to literary events, I often feel that Candice and I aren’t really in the right place. The art establishment doesn’t really have a home for people who just want to write novels for readers on sunbeds.

Last year, we were given a copy of Nice Work by David Lodge and I decided it was time I got around to reading it.

The plot concerns university lecturer Robyn Penrose, who finds herself shadowing factory manager Vic Wilcox. They rub along, disagree and then have a brief fling. The plot is nicely summarised on Wikipedia.

My god, this book is pleased with itself. Witten in the third person, the text keeps showing how clever it is with little asides. To be honest, the print format put me off, and by the third chapter, it was heading for the charity pile. But, I persevered, in the world of Art, books are not there to be enjoyed, they are there to be good for you. A bit like broccoli.

By the end, I enjoyed it, but possibly not in the right way.

You see, I didn’t go to university and have a suspicion that many of the people there simply use further education as a way of avoiding the real world. Yes, there are many valuable courses and we can’t do without them, but I’ve met people who basically have never left school and boy can you tell.

Robyn Penrose is just such a person. She thinks that the most important thing in the world is obscure literary criticism. I’ve no issue with that, the problem I have is that she expects to be able to live in her ivory tower and have everyone else pay for it. Even as I write this, I know it sounds a bit Daily Mail, but when she visits Vic’s factory, it’s obvious that she doesn’t comprehend that those working in the hell-hole conditions are supporting her lovely way of life – just like the landed gentry expected the serfs to toil in the fields so they could lounge around doing nothing. At least they didn’t pretend they cared.

It might be that the author was satirizing this, Robyn and her partner do briefly discuss the idea, but I’m unconvinced. I think she is the hero, especially when we reach the deus ex machina ending with unexpected windfalls and bailing a recently redundant Vic out.

The point is, there is IMHO, nothing wrong with setting out just to entertain people. Life is rubbish enough without someone coming along and snootily laughing at your enjoyable choice of reading matter, and then expecting you to fork out for their luxury lifestyle.

Rant over.

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Rain stops reading

Remilia Scarlet - Rain

Candice: Phil’s written about abandoning a book in a recent blog, and then finding one that touches a cord.

I’ve had a similar issue myself recently.

The last few months have been a rollercoaster with a new job and things outside work throwing a few spanners in the works.  I’ve struggled to concentrate on books or TV shows as I’ve had so much going on in my head.  Walking to walk today in another bought of torrential rain hasn’t helped with the vibe. I realise I need a piece of complete escapism.

So far I’ve started and given up on – One Enchanted Evening by Anton du Beke.  Too light and fluffy, I can’t remember the character names and I’m not in the period ‘Downton’ mood.  Saving that one for the sun lounger

The Librarian of Auschwitz about Dita Kraus – an incredibility important subject but far too sad for me at present.  When they starting talking about sending families to the gas chambers I just can’t read any more.

One of the books both Phil and I have enjoyed recently is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, recommended to us by Liv from Writing West Midlands, a very quirky story of a random political initiative to bring salmon to a Wadi in the Yemen and based on the author’s experiences in industry and government.

The title would put me off straight away, but the story just reminds me of when I worked for Birmingham City Council. A politician would decide that the idea put in front of them was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that everything need to be done to drive this idea forward, without actually thinking the whole thing through.   There is a human side to the story too, it’s not all about fishing.  It is the most bizarre book, written from lots of different viewpoints, but yet it works and is quite amusing.  Don’t take my word for it, give it a go.

Anyway, I think I have finally found my book for my mood.  It’s called The Temptation of Gracie and tells the story of a woman returning to Italy, 40 years after she left, to return to her true love.  I’m still only one third through the book but I’m enjoying the vision of the beautiful flower-filled fields of Tuscany and the swarthy Italian men.  There is young love in the present and in the past and stories of hot, steamy days.  It’s exactly what I need to take me away from the constant UK rain.

In few weeks I’ll be able to escape to my next holiday and perhaps some of the books I’ve given up on I’ll give a second chance, it’s easier to focus on something when you have a longer time to read it.  I do try and read everything I buy as its good to broaden your horizons and read things other than Crime Fiction and Chick-Lit, but also sometimes it’s just good to just disappear.

Hopefully, the rain will stop soon too…

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Recognising yourself in a book

Phil: Working through the huge piles of books passed on to me from La Nolan earlier this year, I’ve just read Wilde About the Girl by Louise Pentland. Not a book I would have picked up myself, but I really enjoyed it.

The plot concerns a year in the life of Robin Wilde – single mother, makeup artist and generally, pretty much together woman. She’s got a useful collection of friends and relatives. Even the ex-husband isn’t written as a monster or complete incompetent. There is a new bloke on the horizon, but he’s not the main plot strand in that annoying way many chick-lit books seem to manage.

Instead, the focus of Robin’s like is her daughter Lyla. Well, that and work. I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like this – the child is the apple of her mother’s eye, but not the only thing in her life. It’s almost like the author managed to write about real life!

Now, I don’t have kids, but I’ve seen friends lives change as they sprogs arrive on the scene. Pentland doesn’t turn the child into a mobile nightmare, but actually makes you feel that spending time with the youngster is fun. If you aren’t broody before opening the cover, you might be by the end.

One aspect that rang true for me was when a new man came in to Auntie Kath’s life. Kath is the rock Robin relies upon and Lyla loves her. When Colin turns up, even though he makes widowed Kath happy, Layla hates him for replacing her late husband. Eventually, they are reconciled but it reminded me of myself.

When I was very young, we lost my Grandad. Even though we didn’t live close, apparently he and I were very close. A few years later my gran took in a lodger for the company and a little income. He was (as I recall) about the same age as my grandad would have been and apparently, I behaved terribly towards him, presumably thinking he was replacing my grandad (he wasn’t, he was just a lodger unlike Colin in this book). Like Robin, my parents had to find a way to reconcile us, they did it and we were fine after that. I was so young I don’t remember not liking him, but I could see what Lyla was going through.

The book is broken up into several sections, each of many chapters, and they all seem to contain an “incident”. One is terrible, but you wouldn’t know this from the cover or blurb. There, we find the stakes ramped up – unnecessarily in my opinion. This book nips along a decent pace, the characters are all pleasant to know and not too cartoony in most cases (OK, some of the school mums maybe) and there is a bit of pathos too. Colin could just be a cypher, but on a trip to the Lake District, we see into his soul a little, but only a little.

I think this is the middle volume in a Trilogy. To be honest, I don’t feel the need to read the others as this is such a strong standalone story, would they spoil it for me?

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