Tag Archives: story

Relaxing reads for taxing times

Phil: Here’s a handy hint. Don’t publish a blog post about how you are starting to feel more comfortable with the current situation. It’s a prelude to your metal state heading downhill fast for several days. Just shut up and read some books. To help, here are the two most recent that I’ve finished in my regular post-lunch tea and reading sessions.

Warning: Contains Spoilers. Or at least spoilers if you’ve never read any chick-lit before and can’t spot the bleedin’ obvious plot lines.

The Hidden Cottage by Erica James

Mia Channing appears to have an enviable life: a beautiful home, a happy marriage, a job she enjoys and three grown-up children to whom she’s devoted. But appearances can be deceptive…

When the family gathers for her son’s thirtieth birthday, he brings with him his latest girlfriend, who, to their surprise, has a nine-year-old daughter. Then, before the birthday cake has even been cut, Mia’s youngest daughter Daisy has seized the opportunity to drop a bombshell. It’s an evening that marks a turning point in all their lives, when old resentments and regrets surface and the carefully ordered world Mia has created begins to unravel.

You’d think from the blurb that this is all about Mia, but the main character is Owen Fletcher who buys a cottage in Little Pelham. The cottage was part of his childhood when he lived for a while in the village. He’s one of those annoying people in novels with bucket loads of cash but no obvious way of earning it, but we let that pass because he’s not a dick. I did have a “what does he DO all day?” moment, but in the current situation, adults not actually doing much to fill the hours doesn’t seem so odd.

Anyway, this is quite involved with Mia’s three children and most importantly, overly controlling husband, all walking on eggshells with each other, finding their way in the world, loving and losing etc. The actual main romance isn’t prominent in the book. It’s there, but takes up very little of the story compared to the rest of the characters, and is all the better for it.

I’d say that this is the thinking readers chick-lit with some well worked parallel storylines, especially Mia’s marriage and Owen’s childhood. There are a few shocks along the way too. Maybe the supporting characters in the village are a bit cartoonish, but the background hangs together well enough not to be obtrusive.

I read this one in small chunks, but it’s one of those books I’d make little bits of time during the day to grab another chapter of.

A Summer Scandal by Kat French

When Violet moves to Swallow Beach, she inherits a small Victorian pier with an empty arcade perched on the end of it, and falls in love immediately. She wants nothing more than to rejuvenate it and make it grand again – but how?

When she meets hunky Calvin, inspiration strikes. What if she turned the arcade into an adult-themed arcade full of artisan shops?

Not everyone in the town is happy with the idea, but Violet loves her arcade and business begins to boom. But as tensions worsen and the heat between her and Calvin begins to grow, life at Swallow Beach becomes tricky. Is it worth staying to ride out the storm? And can Violet find her own happy ending before the swallows fly south for the winter?

Violet inherits a pier and apartment in the childhood town her mother refuses to return to. There are secrets from her grandmother who died in mysterious circumstances. And her neighbour is hunky Calvin Dearheart.

Reader, she shags him.

She also turns the pier into a series of workshops for those making things for the adult entertainment industry. Maybe I’ve lived a sheltered life, but a couple of them were “That’s really a thing?” moments. You don’t want to search for them on-line either on a work computer.

I wasn’t wild about this, the idea that you’d turn the centrepiece of a pier into a series of workspaces where the most public-friendly thing on offer would be a leather whip seemed odd. Artisan workshops would work, but I suspect that the Great British Public aren’t ready for X-rated goods while strolling along the seaside.

To be honest, the characters are all ridiculous, but it’s all played straight and so the book gets away with it. There are more historical parallels, outrageous coincidences and the ending is a bit weird, but overall, it’s everything the cover suggests. Light fun with a happy ending. Just like that that the pier’s customers are expecting.

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Science fiction?

Candice: ‘The camera pans an empty street, the roads are clear, a piece of litter rolls in the wind.  From a distance, the noise of an Ambulance siren can be heard.  A lone runner crosses the screen, bright in a day-glow orange top.  She pounds the streets, head phones on, fiercely concentrating on putting one foot in front of another. Suddenly a dog walker appears in her path, they look at each other as the pavement is only wide enough for them in usual circumstances.  She veers to the right, crossing the grass and on to the road to get away from her foe.  The walker is it out of her way and now it is back to car-free silence.’

For the last week I have been watching our world change in a way that none of us would have ever have thought of, even in the last month.

I was due to be going away in the first week of Easter.  I keep having flashing backs of a conversation with friends in January about booking a trip to the south coast, and then next thing I knew they were coming on our trip too.  Yet four weeks ago I was telling my daughter how much I was looking forward to a week away, she would get to play with her friends, us ladies had booked a spa treatment day.

And now I feel like I am living in a science fiction novel, or its a dream and someone is going to wake me up tomorrow.  What I have written above is not fiction, its fact.  We no longer have to imagine the life portrayed in these sci-fi pieces, it’s happening to us all.  And that is another thing I can not comprehend, it’s not just the UK it’s the world.  We are all in lockdown and we are all experiencing this.

There will be many novels, plays, films and history books written about this event.  And at some point in the future we will all say “Do you remember when it hit, what we did” but for now I think we are shell shocked.

I for one, am trying to record it all, because, like the birth of a child or your wedding day, you think you will remember it but you won’t.  Having my daughter at home means we are creating a daily diary of events so that I and she can look back and remember what it was like.  She doesn’t really understand what is happening.  Tonight she wanted to know if we can go to the shops tomorrow and I had to say no.  I’ve promised new toys instead as I don’t see them as an indulgence but a necessity.  She asked when we could go to the shops and I said hopefully four weeks but to her, that is ages (and to me too, to be honest).

With my writing hat on I’m already wondering if this will ever become part of one of our books.  The BBC are looking for scripts about it, perhaps Phil and I can come up with one?

For those who are locked in, now is the time to write about your fears and also your plans.  Keep positive and we’ll all have a big party when this is over.

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The worst Deus ex machina ever?

Deus ex machina: A plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived.

Phil: I like nerdy reading. I like sci-fi. I like space ships and I love the TV show Thunderbirds. Not for the plots, which are mostly rubbish, but for the models and whizz-bang stuff. The twenty-first century doesn’t look as good as it did when Gerry Anderson designed it!

Anyway, I was browsing in an especially nerdy (even for me) shop and spotted book for a couple of quid.

Thunderbirds Lost World isn’t a novelisation of one of the TV shows. No, it’s a brand new (for 1966 when it was published) novel offering a thrilling tale.

Investing the disappearance of two airliners over New Guinea, Thunderbird One and pilot Scott Tracey find themselves crash landing after his craft is hit by a mysterious invisible force. After some escapades that would be impossible to film with puppets, he is rescued by Thunderbird Two.

Separately, a boffin is planning an expedition to the island. He disappears and Scott heads off to find him. They suspect International Rescue’s arch-enemy, The Hood, might have something to do with it all.

Spoiler Alert.

Anyway, it turns out there is a race of being hidden on the island who are using alien technology to do bad things and are planning to take over the world.

Things look sticky for our heroes – they are trapped in jail with no hope of escape or rescue.

Then there is an earthquake, the jail doors fly open, the baddies disappear and everyone gets away to live happily ever after.

Seriously?

Pretty much an entire novel-worth of buildup, the ground shakes and everything is OK?

How on earth did author John W Jennison get away with this?

I had wondered as the bookmark was nearly at the back and we seemed a long way off a plot resolution, but I didn’t see this coming. Can anyone name a more blatant ending thrown in because the author wanted to go down the pub or was just close to their deadline?

(Nerd note: If you have a copy with a dust jacket, it shows Thunderbird One flying over a dinosaur. There are no dinosaurs in the story.)

 

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Demon Seed – so good he wrote it twice?

Phil: An odd one this. Heading into my local library in search of something to read, I spotted a book called Demon Seed on the shelf.

I knew of the film and decided to give the original version a go.

Or did I?

In the first chapter, there is mention of both the Internet and the World Wide Web. “Hold on”, I think, “I’m pretty sure the film was made back in the 1970s. How come we have talk of things not developed until the late 1990s?”

The plot revolves around a sentient computer program, so some sort of moving around the world’s networks is fine, but I’m pretty sure that neither term was in common us back then.

To Wikipedia, I head and I’m right about the film, it was released in 1977. Assuming the book predates the film then how does the author know about the web?

Well, a little more digging and it turns out that Dean Koontz has written the book twice. Once in 1973 and again in 1997.

All is explained at the end of the novel. Koontz simply says he didn’t think the original was very good so decided to have another crack at it. This allowed him to add in all those future references to computing technology.

I wonder how he pitched it to the publisher though. “You remember that great book I wrote years ago? I’d like to do it again and see if people buy another copy to find out what I’ve changed.”

Is it a brave move to decided that the story you are best known for isn’t good enough, or a cynical one to cash in?

I suppose I ought to say whether I enjoyed the book. Not much. All the talk of the computer controlling Susan, the main character, made me very uncomfortable. There’s also a fairly graphic murder of an innocent man as well as passing mention of several others. Not my thing at all, but then we’ve mentioned I’m a bit of a wuss about these things in the past.

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Giant vegetable news: Life follows art.

The pièce de résistance, though, was a costume he had borrowed from the local amateur dramatics society. Many years ago they had presented a series of plays to local schools promoting a healthy eating message and for part of this the cast dressed as fruit and vegetables. Thanks to their attempts at tackling obesity, the roof of Oswythal House was surmounted by a giant cabbage waving a bed sheet covered in brown marks.Kate vs The Dirtboffins.

Phil: Our book opens with a protestor dressed as a giant cabbage being thrown from the top of a building. (Spoiler alert, he’s fine).

I thought it would be a funny idea, after all, cabbages are amusing, aren’t they? You certainly don’t want to eat them, or at least I don’t.

Last week, what do I see on the news? A man dressed as a giant stick of broccoli for a protest!

 

Oy! Get your own ideas!

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A twisted last post?

Phil: This might be my last blog post. I may not get the chance to write another. The reasons should be clear by the time you reach the end.

Sharing books can be an enjoyable thing. You find yourself presented with something you might not have chosen yourself. Maybe even a complete genre that had previously passed you by.

I’ve never been into books which involve people getting killed. I know they are called “thrillers” but I like to read for escapism, and that generally doesn’t involve me being reminded that I could be killed randomly just because some loon wants to send a message to someone else – usually a detective. I mean, why can’t they just pick up the phone and dial 999? Maybe send a text, or even a postcard?

Anyway, the latest novel to come my way is Twisted by Steve Cavanagh.

I wasn’t really intending to read this but found myself short of books, and I quite liked the orange and black cover which is a bit stylish.

By the end, I enjoyed it. Not just because I found some matching colour cake either.

The plot is confusing. Apparently, the novel is written by JT LeBeau, a mysterious and very, very successful author. Or is it?

You see there are twists, turns and red herrings aplenty.

Halfway through, you think you know what’s going on and the whole thing turns on its head.

By the end, we have an author who is a killer, and a woman with nice shoes lying on a beach.

Now, I know a woman who has nice shoes and is partial to lying on a beach. How far would she go in pursuit of said shoes and sunlounger? Has she got a list of previous writing partners that I don’t know about, all of whom have disappeared in mysterious circumstances? Why does she keep giving me books about people being murdered?

If you don’t hear from me again, please send flowers. And cake….

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Cunning idea – The newbie

lonely lake/office chair, prescott, AZPhil: My writing other half started a new job this week. We met up in her last week of “freedom” and among other things chatted about the joys of being new at work.

This gave me an idea. Not one I can use at present, so I chuck it out there.

Writing from the point of view of the new person anywhere would provide an excellent vehicle for explaining a location to a reader.

Think about it – the reader is also new to the job/location, so everything going through the newbie’s head is the same as that in the reader’s mind.

OK, perhaps they don’t have the same “Where’re the toilets?” anxiety, but new people, a strange office to navigate around, unusual rituals at break times (does everyone go to lunch together?) and a thousand other questions need answers. There’s also the whole cliquiness of workmates to consider – who gets on with who?

The more I think about this, the more I remember why I hate changing jobs!

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Step away from the epic – think local

Phil: On my recent sojourn to the Isle of Man, my car radio was tuned in to Manx FM and my first purchase was a pile of local newspapers.

I like a world where all the stories are local. For example, while the national news was banging on about Brexit, the lead story on the local radio was about a children’s play area whose opening had been delayed. Another big story is a flume at a local swimming pool that won’t fit together.

You might laugh, but this stuff matters. Big politics is very remote to most of us. For the most part, we don’t really see Westminster having a direct effect on our lives.

The local play area being shut – well what do you do with the kids during the summer holidays? The same question you can ask about the flume.

Now translate this to your reading.

I bet most of your favourite books centre on one or two characters lives. Plot twists are personal, because that’s what we relate to as humans.

OK, sci-fi often grapples with galaxy-wide stories spanning aeons, but those do tend to be the preserve of a small number of very enthusiastic readers. Good luck to them, but I find that stuff achingly dull.

No, the essence of good writing seems to be inventing a small world and keeping your plot within it. If you need further proof, look at the tiny areas covered by popular soap operas, a few streets, a square, or memorably, a motel. Look closely at these little worlds and all human life can be found.

As it is. I bet the delayed flume could form the basis for one of our books…

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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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In search of Fillern Holm.

Phil: If you’ve read Kate vs the Navy, you’ll know that the action takes place on an island called Fillern Holm, which can be found in the Bristol Channel, not far from Weston-Super-Mare.

It is of course, completely fictitious. Loosely based on Cockatoo Island in the far more exotic Sydney harbour, we made it up as there isn’t really anywhere suitable to hide an old navy base in the UK, and if we can’t go to Australia, then neither can the characters in our books!

Anyway, I was down in Weston a few days ago and found myself staring out to sea, or at least where the sea should be. On the horizon was a lump, dimly visible through the mist.

Could this be Fillern Holm? Does it exist after all?

Sadly not, it’s actually Steep Holm, according to the map. An uninhabited lump of rock. It was fortified in the 1860s though, and these defences were updated in WWII including the building of a barracks. All this means that it could just be a suitable stand-in for Fillern Holm in any future film or TV adaptions.

Talking of settings for drama, perhaps there is another candidate at Weston. Just off the coast is Birnbeck Pier.

More dereliction, but this time with some buildings. No missing battleships though. Perhaps those will just have to stay in our imagination.

Buy Kate vs the Navy for only 99p from Amazon.

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