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Mr Gandy proves that people are more interesting than things

Phil: Another novel from the “heading to the charity shop” pile in our house, Mr Gandy’s Grand Tour has an interesting premise and proves to be a pleasant read.

Tim Gandy finds himself newly compulsorily retired from his graphic design job. His wife has no real interest in him, as do two of his three children. Just as he’s wondering what to do, the wife drops dead. You might think that this isn’t a great start to a story even from someone as warm and fuzzy as the countries favourite gardner, but it provides a catalyst for the rest of the book. Gandy decides to head off to Europe on a tour in the manner of aristocrats from years long past.

Along the way, he encounters lots of special people and has a few adventures – just the sort of thing you’d expect from a novel.

Gandy is a lapsed artist and propelled by his (deliberately) ancient guidebooks, he’s determined to see some of the great artistic treasures on offer. It’s here where the book bogs down a bit with little more than lists of “wonderful” things seen. I get the feeling that like many people he feels that art from hundreds of years ago is automatically beautiful whereas later stuff isn’t quite as worthy. I’ve been to the Louvre and while I agree the Mona Lisa is disappointing, it’s nothing compared to the miles of dreadful religious paintings that fill the corridors leading to it.

Anyway, when not looking at things, the story nips along with the sort of entertaining events that happen in novels but rarely in real life. I’d bet I could spend the rest of my life painting watercolour around Paris without being accosted by a beautiful chanteuse, although in this case, it’s probably a good thing.

Despite being retired, Gandy isn’t old, or at least not properly old so he can be useful and get around. He still wants to do things and not just reminisce. I’ve not read anything with an early retiree as the main character before and it’s slightly odd as you find this is just part of his life and things can and will change in it.

Fun? Yes. Did it make me want to follow in his footsteps? Not really.  Were I lounging on a sunbed (or in the room of a Holiday Inn which is where I read it) though, it’s pretty good.

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The Keeper of Lost Things

Phil: Meeting up with Candice on Monday for a chat through our edits, I shoved a book her way. All being well, she is on holiday as I write so I knew something for reading on the sunbed would be appreciated.

The author, Ruth Hogan, was at one of the Stratford Literary Festival sessions I went to earlier this year. At the time I wasn’t feeling flush enough to buy the hardback copy of the book, but the premise sounded really interesting so when the chance came to get a paperback, I did.

Let’s start with the description on the back:

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’ have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

Basically, Andrew has collected lots of stuff, carefully labelled it, stuffed it on shelves and intends to find the owners to return it. He doesn’t, but leaves the task, along with his house to Laura. There is also a dead fiance to consider, hunky gardner and special child.

Yes, it sounds a bit rubbish when I describe it like that, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers.  Probably best I don’t write the elevator pitch.

One of the highlights is that for many of the objects, there is a short story attached. Apparently, this was what Andrew wrote to make himself a successful author. The trouble was he wanted to write pieces with an edge, his publisher prefered fluffy happy tales and eventually, they parted company. I loved these little tales and suspect that there is a real book to match the fictional one in them.

Ruth weaves a couple of major plot strands through the book and for a while I couldn’t quite work out how they related to each other but by the end, everything ties up neatly and you have a happy “Oh, that’s what was happening moment.”

I enjoyed the book but it’s not perfect, there is some supernatural stuff that I could have lived without as I felt it dented the real world the rest of the plot lived in and Andrew seemed to do that literary thing of just deciding to drop dead in his rose garden in an unexplained way too.

Ultimately though, the basic idea is novel and pretty strong which overcomes any objections. I certainly enjoyed the read and picked it up every time I had a few minutes, always a good sign. It’s a pretty light and fun story which I expect the Nolan will enjoy as much as the sunbathing.

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Kate vs the Dirtboffins – Chapter Three

That evening, Kate had had enough.  The day’s events had destroyed her wardrobe.  Her best suit was a disaster. The stains would probably defeat even her trusty dry cleaner.  She’d be claiming the whole lot back on expenses.

Driving back home for fresh clothes seemed like a better bet than sitting in the boring hotel bar and rehashing the day with her colleagues.  Pulling up into the underground car park beneath her apartment block, she sighed with relief.  The car had tested the speed cameras on the A14 to get back here, but all she wanted to do was collapse in her own bath with a glass of sauvignon.

Kate turned off the ignition and stared into space for a moment trying to think positive thoughts.

Great job – tick

Great flat – tick

Great wardrobe – big tick.

But in the back of her mind she felt maybe something was missing. Upstairs in her stylish home, the only welcome would be the faint meow of Olly the cat.

Turning to pick up her take-away from the passenger seat, a smartly printed business card was dislodged from the gap it had been jammed into in the dashboard. On the front it read:

Kate Smith. Chief Executive.

K.O.D. – Change Management. We make the difference.

She looked at the words for a minute and smiled; that was her, MD of her own company, something that gave her a warm feeling that wasn’t attributable to the heated seats in her car.

For Kate, her business was more than just a job, it was her life. Solihull born, educated at an average comprehensive, and the youngest of three children, her two older brothers had made sure she stayed the bottom of the pecking order at all times. Her mother had always shrieked in horror when Kate had appeared from an afternoon playing with the boys. She would be covered in mud, her clothing all torn yet there was always a big smile on her face.  Growing up a tomboy thanks to years of fighting with her older brothers had ensured she developed a tough shell, essential for climbing the corporate ladder in later years.

Hitting the business world running after University, Kate had discovered that she needed more than just a brash attitude and the ability to throw great insults to get on in the world. She had worked her way up by quick thinking and building an armour of designer suits to keep everyone at arm’s length. But behind this tough exterior, Kate’s life didn’t extend very far beyond her work. Obviously, she had acquired the usual disparate collection of Facebook “friends” but these were mainly old workmates and people she half knew from University. Most wouldn’t recognize her on the street, far less cross the road for a chat. It didn’t matter to her, she had crawled her way to the top kicking and screaming and wasn’t about to let a little thing like friendship get in the way of her career goals.

K.O.D. was really Kate’s baby and she had poured all her love and affection into getting the business off the ground.  Opening the door of her apartment, Olly mewed a greeting and curled himself around her legs, purring contently.  She walked across to her SMEG fridge and pulled out a bottle of a good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  Grabbing a glass from her cupboard, she made short shrift of the cork and enjoyed the sound of the crisp, clean wine as it glugged into her glass.

Curling up on the sofa in her Juicy tracksuit she stroked a purring Olly.

“Oh puss, what a nightmare day I’ve had.  I’m wet, dirty and knackered. To cap it all I saw Dave. You remember me telling you about him?  The one that got away.  Well Ol, he’s back, looking cute as ever. I just don’t know what to do.”

She buried her face in his warm, furry tummy.  Anyone watching would have thought she was just cuddling the cat but silent tears fell from her eyes as she snuggled him.

Seeing Dave had left her so confused and she really wanted to avoid talking about that in the hotel bar. If they guessed at a connection, her staff would all want to grill her about him, the man who knew ‘Ice Maiden’ Kate before she was so frosty.

A career girl through and through, the brush with Dave all those years ago had left her only interested in one thing, work.  Falling in love with a man, well that was a weakness and Kate didn’t admit to weakness.  As far as she could see it only got in the way of her true goal – to own her own successful company – and she was well on her way to that.

Only sometimes, when sat in the lounge of a friend’s house as toddlers ran round their legs and their husband made the coffee, did she find herself wondering what it would be like to be involved in a more personal kind of partnership.

Walking into her bedroom, Kate pulled a dusty box from the top of the wardrobe.  Opening it she looked down at the piles of curling photographs.  Rifling in the bottom there was a faux leather photo album.  Sitting on the bed she began flicking through the photos, taken from her university days.

Staring out from one page was a photo of her and Dave, in full rock climbing gear, on top of some mountain or other.  Kate had first met him on a trip to the Peak District and they’d bonded over crampons and Kendal Mint cake.  Something seemed to click between the two of them and it quickly became coffees and lunch every day at Uni.  She had a boyfriend, but quickly realised her feelings for Dave were different.

Leafing through the pages there was another memorable photo – her perched on the end of Dave’s hospital bed. They’d taken off climbing for a day for a break from the last minute exam cramming. Bravado and his Ford Escort had taken them to Wild Cat Crags in the Peak District where even hardened climbers had second thoughts about some of its heights.

Dave had saved her life, she’d lost her footing and found herself hanging 100ft in the air with only the rope and Dave between her and certain death.

The memory was still vivid enough to send a chill through her bones. Somehow Dave found enough inner strength to pull her back from the edge.  She’d never been so frightened in her life. It was a turning point, nearly dying sealed a determination that nothing and no one would get in her way.  Her time with the boyfriend was done, she wanted to be with Dave.

Sadly, things hadn’t turned out that way, Dave ended up in hospital after the climbing accident and by the time he came out the job he’d applied for had come through, in Washington DC working for a senator.  In a week he was gone.

Closing the album, she piled all the photos back in the box and returned it to the wardrobe.  Rubbing a tear from her eye, she turned towards the bathroom.

“Enough of this rubbish,” she said, looking down at a purring Olly, “time for a nice hot bath, a few glasses of vino and a good night sleep.  I need all the beauty sleep I can get these days!”


Candice: So, there you go, a taste of the fun that is ‘Kate vs the Dirtboffins’.

We’d love to know what you think, so to encourage you to read the rest we’ve reduced the price of our e-book to 99p

And for the first person to comment on this blog post we’ll send you a signed paper copy (worldwide postage, you will need to supply postage details).

Yes, a copy from Candice and Phil, just think in a few years it might be worth something!

So go on, buy either the  paperback  or e-book from Amazon NOW, have a read and then write us a review on Amazon.

And if you really like it tell all your friends.

Once we’ve got you hooked then ‘Kate vs the Navy’ will be out soon.  It’s got the same core team of Kate, Gareth, Tracey and Kelvin, but with thrills and spills with the team all at sea closing down a naval base.  Of course, things are not as simple as that, with Dave re-appearing Kate’s life and the Navy crew having other ideas about what the Ministry of Defence should do with them.

But hey, life would be boring for KOD if not.

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Seeing things from the other side

Image result for feed back to a friend

 

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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