Tag Archives: review

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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Reading is good for your child – FACT

Phil: I’m special.

You’d probably guessed that, but it’s true. Deciding to put in an appearance a few days before I was due to be born, I became part of a massive survey which has, and will continue to, influenced how you and your children live.

The 1970 “cohort” was a survey of all children born in an April week. Since birth we’ve been survey and interviewed every so often and the results have helped to shape science and government policy.

I didn’t know much about this, other than that I and my best mate Bod at middle school were part of all this. We got to sit tests every so often that asked things about how we felt and how often we went to the toilet. They told us it was science and everything sounded sensible, especially the bit about skiving off the odd lesson to be “special”.

Now, thanks to Helen Pearson’s book The Life Project, I know what was going on. We weren’t quite as special as we thought, cohort surveys have taken place in 1946, 1958, 1970, 1991 and 2000. Many thousands of children have been part of these and the results are fascinating.

Towards the end of this complex but very readable book, a story of the way life in Britain has changed emerges. Looking at these results over long periods allows trends to be spotted such as the link between mothers smoking and low birth weight. Even if, as was often the case, no-one isn’t sure why it seems to be a good idea to ask the questions at the time, later on looking at how various factors affect children’s development pays dividends.

You might think that this would be enough to sell the idea of running these to politicians, but the story of the cohort surveys is of dedicated scientists constantly having to fight for funding and support. Many real characters emerge, without whom much of this information would never have come to light.

One constant result seems to be that if you are born into poverty or a broken home, you’ll find life much harder than those with a more fortunate start in life.

However, the 1970 cohort, my lot, showed that children who read for pleasure tended to advance further in vocabulary, spelling and maths between ages 10 and 16. This mattered more than having a parent with a university degree.

So, don’t put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington, send her down the library!

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Who’s that Girl by Mhairi McFarlane

Phil: The moment you read that title, you heard the Eurithmics in your head didn’t you?

Well, I did. Presented with the book by Candice over cake, I wasn’t sure. It looked very chick-lit, but I know she wouldn’t be shoving anything rubbish my way so I gave it a go.

We first meet Edie at a wedding. During the day, just after the speeches, the groom decides to snog her. The bride spots this and things all fall apart.

Friends and colleagues not only abandon her, but thanks to the joys of social media (this is very much a book set NOW), they gang up and start bullying her. Leaving London for the family home in Nottingham, she has to face a father who has never really recovered from the death of her mother and a sister to hates her. That and getting used to not being in the capital.

The move north is partly engineered by her boss and involves ghost writing a celeb biography for the latest blokey hot totty from something that sounds a lot like Game of Thrones. He’s filming in the city, doesn’t want the autobiog written due to a secret in his past.

Basically, everyone has secrets (Edie wasn’t having an affair with the groom, but was flirting) and needs to take control of their lives. So much so standard. If I tell you any more, then SPOILERS.

What sets this apart is it’s a very modern book. We get loads of social media and also old-skool media problems. A row in a nightclub with the totty results in Edie being identified in the papers as a mystery woman attached to him. This gives her vile and bitchy workmates a chance to sell their stories. There are loads of communication channels, including an internal e-mail system that provides the chance for some blackmail and they all help to build the pressure on our main characters in a way that you don’t see in most books.

Even the ending, while leaving room for a sequel, is convincing and plays like grown-ups making decisions. Not very chick-lit at all, in a good way.

Not living in a metropolitan bubble, I found some of the workmate characters hard to relate to. They are bitchy and quite frankly, childish. Some of the actions are more playground bullying than proper adult behaviour – however, that’s because I live in a different, and probably considerably less well paid, world. That said, I enjoyed the book a lot. It’s a proper page turner with plenty of twists and turns along the way. The main characters all develop and change during the story and lots of loose ends get tied up in a way that satisfies the reader.

Lots of short chapters too which builds the pace and, as I found, keeps you reading. Not quite enough to persuade me to take that girly cover on a train mind you, even though by that point I really wanted too!

 

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A Purrfect Love Story

Candice: In the last two weeks I have finished two books. That sounds like a lot but the first one took about six weeks to read and the other around five days. What does that say about the books ?

One was ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ a book in a series around the Jason Bourne character, though not written by the original author but someone writing in their style. It’s the first Bourne book I have read, though I have seen a few of the films which I did enjoy. They were a less stylish version of Bond with all the thrills and spills, plus lots of near death situations where the protagonist manages to escape. Why do the book take so long to read? Well there were so many plots and sub plots, led by characters with long and confusing names I totally lost track of who was who and what they were trying to do in the end. It doesn’t help when you only read a chapter a night but even when I managed a few hours on it I was still lost. Cut out a few sub plots and it might have made more sense.

That brings me to the other book I read. The other half had bought me ‘ A Street Cat called Bob’ for Christmas. I’d heard of the story but they had also made it in to a film last year that I had hoped to see and didn’t get there. The story is around a recovering drug addict who is befriended by a ginger tom. After finding that this cat seems to be homeless he takes him on as a pet and the story revolves around how, by having Bob around, he decides to really turn his life around, get off the methodone and try to find a proper job. Life isn’t easy on the way, Bob gets ill and other street sellers take offence when the cat becomes such a star in Convent Garden, stealing their tips as they see it.

I really enjoyed this book, though written more like a collection of blogs than a book the story touched a cord, especially as I am a cat lover too and can see how having one in your life could make a difference. Before my daughter came along my cat was my baby !  I romped through each chapter wanting to know what happened to Bob, not his carer. The book finishes quite abruptly leaving me having to buy the next to find out how they moved from street stars to big screen stars.

Learning…less is more.  Keep the story with some twists and turns but not too complicated or you will turn the reader off.

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That was 2016 that was…

Phil: Today is the one post of the year when I can legitimately look backward. The news telly people have been doing it for a couple of weeks to save themselves the bother of going in to work so it’s fashionable.

Anyway, for team Nolanparker, 2016 has been a very important year. For a start, we published The Book in paperback:

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If you haven’t bought a copy, please do so from the links on the left of this page. It’s not just me who thinks this is a good idea, the reviews for the electronic version are really good. We’ve plenty of other people who have read it and say the same. Even my mum likes it although she doesn’t think much of Tracey…

With the book out, we’ve been on the road doing our thang in front of real audiences. First there was Stratford Literary festival:

Strat Lit Fest 2016 - 1

A “proper” festival appearance means we are “proper” writers. Even JK Rowling wouldn’t have enjoyed better cake in the festival green room. Perhaps her audience might have been bigger, but those who came, enjoyed us a lot.

After this, we gigged in London, where the Queen lives:

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Thanks to Steve and Kim for sorting this out for us. I think our brand of storytelling mixed with pantomime shouting at pictures of Michael Gove went down very well with the metropolitan audience. And Candice got to wear a shiny top and nice shoes.

Best of all though, we have readers. A few promotional events in the year mean we know over 100 people have a copy of the story in their hands or on their Kindles. Getting our words out there is what it is all about. And every time someone tells us they liked them, we are full of smiles.

So, what about 2017? I’ll talk about that next week.

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Print On Demand. Not for losers.

Bello is a digital-only imprint of Pan Macmillan, established to breath new life into previously published, classic books.

We publish in ebook and print-on-demand formats to bring these wonderful books to new audiences.

www.panmacmillan.com/bello

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Ann Cleeves is the author behind ITV’s Vera and BBC One’s SHETLAND. She has written over twenty-five novels, and is the creator of detectives Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez – characters loved both on scree and in print. Her books have now sold over one million copies worldwide.

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anncelevesbookPhil: I acquired this book from my local railway station “library” – a bookcase in the waiting room on platform 3. With a journey ahead, I’d planned to drop a couple of books in and find something random and unexpected to read. I chose The Healers because it felt like the print copy of our book. Satin finish cover with no frills but otherwise just like any other paperback.

When I read the above, I understood why. It’s the offspring of the same printing machine, or at least a very close relative.

The idea that a major publisher maintains a digital and print-on-demand imprint is fascinating. We all know that putting books on the shelves of shops costs lots of money. This limits those books to those that the publisher and shop are certain will sell – mainly ones with someone off the telly named on the cover.

But what about the rest?

Print-on-demand offers the chance for publishers to leverage “the long tail” of the book world. The same business model that makes Amazon a success. The idea is that there is a large body of work that will sell in tiny numbers over a long period of time. For a shop this is bad news as they simply can’t keep all the slow movers on the shelf.

If your business is based on enormous warehouses or even POD then this isn’t a problem. If you have 2 copies of a thousand books that sell 1 copy a year, that’s still a thousand books sold. Best of all, they all sell at full price, unlike the best sellers which are heavily discounted so no-one makes any money.

Maybe POD is the future for lots of novelists. You’ll never be out of print for a start and there is always the dream of sudden interest in a title pushing sales.

For those lower down the author ladder like us, it’s comforting to know that our book is in the same market as people who have written for the telly. And that you can own a copy that will be just as good as theirs.

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The Healers?

It’s a good fun whodunnit novel. I rattled through it very quickly – always the sign of an enjoyable read. It has the hallmarks of an early novel with a bit more set-up than you might like at the start, but if you can find a copy then grab it.

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When God was a Rabbit. Great title.

rabbitgodPhil: If you want shelf appeal, your book needs a great title. “When God was a Rabbit” by Sarah Winman certainly has that. Who can look at it in the bookshop and not be intrigued?

The story revolves around Eleanor Maud who we first encounter as a young child and then follow through her life, or at least big chunks of it with a gap in the middle. Elly is a precocious narrator, quoting Nietzsche at age 7. We progress through various episodes in her life which I think are supposed to form some sort of cohesive whole. Trouble is, I’ve read the book and still don’t know what was going on.

Part 1 is quite pleasantly written. There are a few never explained anomalies such as her best friend pulling a 50p coin from the future from her arm or a hint of child abuse, but generally I followed the story of her family moving to Cornwall to set up a guest house courtesy of a football pools win. God in this instance really is a rabbit – specifically Elly’s pet.

It’s a nice read. I could suspend disbelief to handle the characters, despite several who seem to make little sense such as the gay film star aunt who is apparently always nipping off to star in some epic but doesn’t seem to be famous. Elly’s brother is gay (as is pretty much everyone else it seems), and every time he has a shag, his sister seems to catch him in the act. No wonder he’s a bit messed up in part 2.

And part 2 is more of a problem. We find Elly now a journalist but the sort of writer who flies around the world while not actually doing anything productive. She has a flat in London but often nips over to see her sibling in New York. Apparently you can fund this on a weekly newspaper column.

By the time the September 11 attacks were shoehorned in to the narrative, I was starting to lose patience. There was plot that didn’t fit the story and if I’m feeling unkind, could have been dropped in at the request of an editor demanding a longer page count. I imagine a wall full of Post-It notes with random sensational scenes (child dressed as baby Jesus killed in the nativity play?) on but no-one bothering to suggest picking the best and then linking them together. Instead, everything is crammed into the pages, everything except a plot.

I think we are supposed to travel through the series of only lightly constructed vignettes and find something profound about childhood and growing up, friendships and families, triumph and tragedy and everything in between. But I only know this because it’s written on the back of the cover. Mind you, “Includes extra material for reading groups” is also on the cover and that’s not in the copy I read.

What’s weird is that while I didn’t really like this book, I quite enjoyed reading it. Maybe that’s enough for the literary reviewers, or maybe they were dazzled by the authors work as an actress (2 years in Holby City! 3 years in The Bill!) but there are plenty of good reviews out there and the book has received 4 awards including the Newton First Book Award and Writer of the Year in 2011. Best of all, Richard & Judy picked it as one for their summer book club – a guarantee of bucket loads of sales.

Presumably I’m missing something very profound, but I would have liked an explanation of that 50p.

 

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