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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 3

Kate was confused. The business with the Navy Island had finished two months ago and since then she’d been feeling down. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

The nightly trips to the gym had lost their sparkle, she’d even had the instructor shouting at her during her last body pump class that she wasn’t working hard enough. She’d stopped mid ‘clean and jerk’ and she couldn’t remember why. For a proud gym bunny, that was worrying.

Sat on her sofa with a cat purring on her lap, and another beside her after another post work session, she hopped channels on the TV but nothing caught her attention. It was no good. She needed to get to the bottom of the problem.

There was one benefit to her low mood, her skirts and trousers were getting looser as she’d also lost interest in food. Picking at a chicken sandwich she left it on the floor for Olly to lap up, and instead grabbed a class of wine.

Flicking through her post she came across a post card. “Who sends postcards, these days?” she mused to herself. The picture showed a beautiful Italian setting, and turning it over, she read the back. “Loving another cruise, this time round the Med. Have met some great friends, and seen some great sights, you must join me next time, you might find ‘The One’. Lots of Love Olive.”

Ah, Olive. They’d met on a job that Kate’s company had done a couple of years ago. Called in to close down the Horticultural Investigation Agency, and Olive had to be the only sane person that Kate had met there. Officially, PA to the boss, she was actually the one who kept the boffins’ world turning. They had kept in very loose touch. Well actually, Olive sent Kate cards and emails, and Kate spent all her time promising to return the favour.

Looking at her watch she saw it was not quite 9pm, not too late for a call then. Picking up her mobile she found Olive’s number and dialled.

“Well hello stranger.” The gravelly voice replied.

“Hi there. I wasn’t sure if you would be back from your grand tour.” Kate laughed.

“What you actually mean is you were hoping I’d be away so you could leave me a voicemail and think you had done your bit.”

“Oh Olive, I can’t get anything past you.” Kate squirmed slightly on the sofa.

Olive was in her early 60s, a widower with two grown-up sons. She and Kate clicked because, in her day, Olive had also been a career woman. Unfortunately, back then, the world of work didn’t allow for women to progress when they had children so she’d had to give up her career for more menial jobs to look after her boys. Once they had left home she’d been past getting the career back up and running, but had kept a tight ship at HIA and made sure that, when it came to the crunch, she’d got a decent package and everyone else there had too. Her redundancy and pension had helped to fund a prosecco lifestyle (not quite champagne) and she was now enjoying some of the things she’d not been able to do before.

“So, tell me what’s going on with you?”

“Oh, nothing much.” Kate stroked Olly and sipped her wine. Horatio nuzzled her legs and then sniffed Olly’s bottom.

“No change there then. Come on girl, you need to do more than burn 500 calories in the gym and then drink them in Sauvignon.” Olive laughed lightly down the phone. “I met some lovely single men on my cruise, you really need to book one.”

“But where any of them under 60?” Kate smiled at the picture of her in a designer gown surrounded by over 60’s waltzing round the ballroom of some cruise ship. “I don’t think I’m quite desperate enough to be thinking of sugar daddies yet.”

“But you need to be thinking of someone, my lovely. Your eggs aren’t getting any younger.”

“Olive really! Do you have to be that detailed?” Kate blushed, glad that no one else could hear this conversation.

Olive understood Kate’s need to pursue her career, but had also enjoyed her time as a wife and mum so didn’t want Kate to give up on these things too. In this day and age Olive though she could juggle both, she just couldn’t persuade her friend.

“But it’s true my love. Where’s Dave these days?” Olive had met Dave on the HIA job and had been quite taken with him too. She knew he and Kate had history, and couldn’t understand why Kate didn’t want to rekindle everything she’d felt all those years ago.

“Off in America, looking at work for the business.” Kate tried to come across more dismissive that she felt.

“And seeing his wife and son?”

“I suppose so, but it’s none of my business.”

“What do you mean, it’s none of your business? It only that if he wants to get back together with her, and the general feeling I’ve got from you two is that is a no no.”

“I don’t know Olive, you know my relationship radar doesn’t work. Look what happened with Ross”

Kate’s last try at a relationship had failed miserably. She literally thrown herself at Ross Smith, entrepreneur and business guru who’d help get the firm’s last project over the line. Unfortunately, he was also gay, something that she seemed to be the only person not to notice. In the process she’d pushed Dave away and now he’d left the country and she had no idea what was going on.

“He was just a distraction. You really need to sort out what is going on with Dave. Come on, this has been going on for nearly twenty years now. If he isn’t the one then you need to work it out and move on. Really my love, I don’t want you to be my age, single and lonely.”

“But you’re single…”

“But I’m most definitely not lonely. I’m having the time of my life and I’ve got two boys and three grandchildren to share it with.”

Children. That was another of Kate’s stumbling blocks. Dave already had a son, and the thought of him made her uncomfortable.

“Well, you know how I feel about children.” Kate tailed off.

“Actually, I don’t. You always skirt around the issue.” Olive smirked. She’d come back from her cruise refreshed and was determined not to let her friend get away with this anymore. She had begun to see Kate more like another member of her family, especially as she didn’t have a daughter of her own. And she wasn’t going to let her substitute daughter get away with not being true to herself.

“Well, um.” Kate felt a little put on the spot, she had an answer for everything in the business world but in this particular situation she didn’t really know what the answer was. “Kids, its all sick, poo and no sleep from what I can see from my friends and family. No time to yourself and spending hours trying to get your body back to how it was.”

“That’s just surface stuff. They add another layer to your life, bring joy and smiles, help you learn and grow. “ Olive looked at the photos of her boys and their children on the mantlepiece. She remembered it was hard work, but now, looking at her grandchildren just made her smile.

“I’ll remember that when I see a fraught mother shouting at her child in a shop.” Kate laughed. She really didn’t get the whole kids thing, she was happy with her cats. And the way things were going it would be an immaculate conception anyway.

“Just think about it for me, would you love. Perhaps spend some time with your niece and nephew. I think it will change your mind.” Olive thought she’d done enough for now, but she was worried about Kate cutting herself out of something that she would enjoy. In her minds eye, she could see Kate with a sidekick daughter, in matching outfits, out shopping together.

Finishing the call with a promise to stay in touch more often, Kate swallowed the rest of her wine. Children were a big problem for her, she just couldn’t see past the disruption to her life and change to her body. She’d seen what a C section could do to someone’s six pack.

Ruffling Olly’s fur she remembered again why she’d decided that a cats were as far as she wanted to go when it came to dependents. Love and affection but didn’t impact on your ability to go on holiday. How that would work with her and Dave’s relationship she didn’t know but as she still wasn’t sure what he was thinking, well she didn’t have to address it right now.

She did think about Olive’s comment about her brother. She really didn’t see enough of either of her brother’s and their children, and was well overdue a chat with Jake, who always had a clear head and good approach to life. She was conscious she was moping around without Dave and needed to get out of the funk. Picking up her phone she dropped him a text before she changed her mind. An immediate response filled with exclamation marks came back, with a date for a meet in a weeks’ time. Putting her phone on silent she went to bed feeling happier, with something to focus on rather than her worry about what Dave was up to.

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 1

“Chad, you are going to kill him!”, A woman screamed.

The bulky blonde haired man held the other by the throat. Tears ran down the woman’s face as she pulled at the blonde’s shoulders, trying to wrench him off his opponent.

He pulled his fist back, ready to inflict the fatal blow. The other man, dark haired and slightly smaller, was pinned to the floor but managed to find enough wiggle room to move just as the fist swung and it hit floor rather than his face. It helped that his opponent was a little inebriated.

“DAD!” The wail of a small boy could be heard across the room. Standing on the staircase the boy, with tousled hair and crumpled pyjamas, had been watching the scene unfold across the open plan room. Running across the lounge he jumped in the space between the two men.

“Stop please Chad. Please don’t hurt my Dad.”

The sight of a tear-stained face stopped the blonde in his tracks. Falling backwards to the floor he sat with his head in his hands and began to cry.

“Oh Junior, I’m so sorry.”

“That’s OK, Uncle Chad.” The boy hugged his ‘Uncle’ and then walked over to his dad, who was now sitting on the sofa holding his head. “Are you alright, dad?”

Dave lifted his head and looked at his son. His one eye was almost swollen shut and his ribs were killing him where Chad had inflicted more blows. Though well-built he had been no match for the man, an ex-American footballer player now run to seed.

“Can you grab me some ice from the fridge please son.”

Alicia stood weeping by the kitchen door. Dave’s estranged wife was still shocked by the whole experience. A quiet evening with friends had turned in to something a lot more traumatic. She still wasn’t sure how Chad and Dave had gone from exchanging toasts over beer to nearly killing each other.

The two men looked at each other across the lounge, like two caged tigers ready to pounce.

“Dave,” Chad looked over at his English friend, “Be real. He’s doesn’t even look like you. Face facts man, Dave Junior is my son.”

*

Six months earlier

Standing on the Mall in Washington DC, Dave wondered if this felt like coming home. To his left was the Washington Monument, a huge needle like structure that over looked the large reflecting pool, a lake made famous by Forrest Gump trying to cross it to get to his true love. To his right the grassed area stretched up to the Capitol Building, a familiar sight to anyone watching American political films or TV. It was the hub of US politics, and the equivalent to the Houses of Parliament in the UK and had once been his office.

Looking at the clear blue sky he pondered if he was doing the right thing. He’d left the UK in a rush after the closure of the naval job. It was another success for KOD, and they’d gained plaudits in the press for the handling of the whole event. He was looking forward to taking Jnr there when it opened for the public as an amusement park. He’d love him to meet Captain Norris, the slightly spikey officer who’d been his adversary. Seagull poo aside he was pleased he’d managed to save a historic battleship and some memories of Royal Navy history for future generations.

“Daddy!”. A small voice could be heard shouting across the park.

Dave scanned the area and spotted a body moving a speed towards him. The next thing he knew he was almost bowled over by a small boy who wrapped himself around Dave’s legs.

“Hey Dad. I’m so glad you are here.”

Dave picked up the bundle of energy, struggling slightly as his son had grown since he’d last seen him. Nearly eight the boy was well built with his head above Dave’s waist.

“Junior. You’ve got big!”

“I know. Mom says I’m one of the tallest in my class.”

He put the boy down and ruffled his hair, a thatch of blonde curls. He still wondered at genetics. Both he and Alicia had brown hair but his son had the hair of Adonis.

His wife finally appeared by his side.

“Hello Dave.” She leant in for a peck on the cheek.

Things in their relationship had been rocky for a while, with Dave staying in the UK when Alicia had decided she preferred to come back to her home country, the US. For the last year they had been talking and he’d popped back for short trips but with his job it had been hard to get the time off. This time he had a few weeks so they knew this trip was make or break for the two of them, or at least for his son.

“Come on Dad, I want to go and play with the spacecraft.” Jnr pulled his father’s arm, dragging him towards the Air and Space Museum. Home to American’s flight history it was Jnr’s favourite place of all the museums in the centre of Washington. He loved to pretend to be an astronaut.

Letting his son run on Dave and Alicia fell into step.

“So is this trip Business or Pleasure?”

“A bit of both.” Alicia rolled her eyes at his response. “Hey it needs to both, I can’t afford to keep flying over here to you know.”

“Perhaps you should have thought of that before you gave up your US government job.” She bit back.

Dave was about to respond with another barbed comment. This was how most of their conversations went these days. Jousting with remarks about which country they should live in and what was best for their son. He’d had enough of it all, the other reason he was here.

“Look. I’m here to try and clear the air. Taking the opportunity to look for work for KOD over here gives me a chance to spend a few weeks rather than a few days so we can have proper conversation about what’s best for Junior.” Dave stared hard at his wife. She pouted but kept her mouth shut. He noticed that she didn’t say, and for them. He thought she realised, the same way he did, that their relationship was over.

Waiting by the side of the road Dave Jnr was bouncing up and down with excitement.

“Come on you two slow pokes. We’ll miss our slot in the planetarium.” Running behind his parents his pushed them along towards the doors of the Museum. Differences aside Dave and Alicia couldn’t help but let his enthusiasm rub off on them.

“I’ll race you there.” Dave opened the doors and set off across the entrance hall, Jnr in his wake, Alicia laughing at their exuberance.

*

“No, no, no. How many times do I have to tell you, no.” Kate stomped back to her office, slamming the door behind her.

Silence fell across the rest of the office as they followed her tall, thin shape teetering back in her stilettos.

It had been a few weeks since the end of the Fillern Holm job, and the departure of Dave to America. Since then she had been more insufferable than usual. Any mention of him brought out a sharp retort, in fact anything seemed to get her goat. Even Tracey, someone not known for her sympathy for Kate at the best of times, was feeling sorry for her. Kate had got noticeably thinner and her heels seemed to be getting higher each day that Dave was gone.

Of course Kate wouldn’t admit that she was worried about what was going to happen in America. Dave Thomas, the one that got away at University, had breezed back into Kate’s life two years ago in a big job to close down a vegetable research agency. KOD had done to the job but Dave had lost his in the process. So, without Kate being consulted her not so sleeping partner had brought him in to work at KOD, HER COMPANY. She’d not been too happy at the time but had warmed to Dave over his Florence nightingale abilities when she broke her leg. Though she hadn’t told him, again how she felt, and instead had thrown herself at someone else, someone who’d turned out to be gay.

So, the contract had come to an end, and Dave had offered to look for some new work for the company. He had a few contacts stateside, and they’d made more when the Yanks and tried to ‘shipnap’ the battleship that came with the naval island they had been working at. Kate knew the expression ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’ but it didn’t make her feel any more comfortable that he would be spending time with his estranged wife. But Kate being Kate couldn’t tell him this, so instead was just taking her frustrations out at the gym or on the staff.

Kate’s office door opened again. Everyone in the office took a deep breath.

“Kelvin, get in here now. This bl**dy computer isn’t working, AGAIN.”

Commiserating looks were aimed at the office IT geek Kelvin as he rose reluctantly from his chair and made the way slowly across the office. One member of staff actually made the sign of the cross as a small prayer for him as the door closed behind him.

We are posting a chapter each week from our latest novel, Kate vs Showbiz. If you’d like to read the whole book, subscribe now!

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A Christmas tale

Kate was lying on her sofa. She had glass of wine in her hand, and her two cats, Olly and Horatio were fighting for space on her lap. She wasn’t a fan of Christmas, if she heard Maria Carey sing ‘All I want for Christmas’ one more time she thought she might scream. In fact this year it seemed to be worse, with new Christmas songs coming along, god that Ed Sheeran and Elton John song just made her want to vomit. What was it about Christmas that brought out the worst in people?

KOD had managed to squeeze in their party before the new restrictions were brought in. She’d smiled through the jolliness, Christmas jumpers and songs while gritting her teeth. She couldn’t wait until the new year and they could all get back to work. Even today, everyone had been desperate to knock off early, sending silly messages and bringing those jumpers back out for video calls. She’d had to let them go at midday, that was how it worked apparently, but she’d stayed on her laptop until 6pm answering emails and catching up on the ever-mounting workload. The world didn’t close down just because it was the 24th of December.

It was warm and cosy in her flat, and the wine and the cat’s purring was making her dozy.

‘Rustle, rustle.’ Kate woke with a start. She looked around, the flat was in darkness, the only glow coming from the lights in the kitchen. Peering at her watch it showed it was nearly 1am. God, she’d fallen asleep on the sofa!

‘Rustle, rustle.’ She thought she could hear a noise from her bedroom. The flat was open plan so the only three rooms she couldn’t see were the two bedrooms and the bathroom. Rolling off the sofa, with some complaints from the two sleeping cats, she picked up the first thing that she could get her hands on, a slipper, and crept towards her bedroom. The noise was getting louder.

“Humpf”. Kate paused, that sounded like a male voice in her room. She looked around, wondering where her phone was. Perhaps she should call 999, who could be in her flat at this time? Her bedroom hadn’t seen any male action for over a year! No, she was a tough woman, she’d give him what for. She dropped the slipper and picked up one of her Jimmy Choos, the four-inch stiletto should help.

Cracking the door to her bedroom she saw the back of a large shape. Strange, it was a broad back covered with what seemed to be a red jacket. Then she could see white hair – what was this, an OAP was raiding her designer bag collection? He seemed to be bending over to look at something, and was making a lot of huffing noises.

“Yah!!!” She ran into the room brandishing the shoe, heel pointing forward. The intruder turned round. He was over six foot, but had white hair and beard, and looked about 80. “Oh, hello Kate.” A loud booming voice said to her. She stopped in her tracks, shoe still in the air.

“How do you know who I am?” She kept her aggressive stance, balls of her feet, like her trainer had taught her. “I know who everyone is, don’t you know.” The man responded. “However, it doesn’t mean I can find you on my list.”

Kate’s brain was doing twenty to the dozen; old man, white hair, red suit, Christmas Eve, and coming up with an answer she didn’t like. “But you can’t be, you don’t exist.” She blurted out.

“Do look I don’t exist?” The man pointed at his suit and smiled. “I just don’t normally get caught in the act. I must be getting old.” He laughed to himself and then turned back to the electronic tablet in his hand. Scrolling through, he carried on making confused noises. “Nope, its no good, I can’t find you on the list.”

He turned around and picked up the sack from the floor, Kate hadn’t noticed it before, but behind him was a large hessian sack. “I hate to leave you like this, but as you know I have many places to be. It seems Kate you have been a very bad girl this year, and I can’t give you a present.”

Kate pulled herself together, a bad girl. What did he mean, she’s single-handedly held KOD together, even with this ruddy pandemic going on. Everyone still had a job. What more did he want?

“Now, hang on a minute there… um Father Christmas. I’ll have you know I’ve done a hell of a lot this bloody year to keep the world spinning.” She put her hands on her hips.

“Well you might have done, my dear, but according to my system you haven’t been very nice about it. You’ve had Clare in accounts in tears twice, and written so many harsh emails my little computer had to filter some of the language before it could show me examples. People don’t like you.”

“It’s not about being liked, it’s about getting the job done!”

“Well, this time of year especially, you have to remember that people are people too, and just because Julie from HR wants to knock off early to play with her kids is no excuse to bawl her out.”

“But… but…” Father Christmas put his hand up. “Sorry Kate, you can’t argue with me. My computer knows all and it says a big NO for you for this year.” And with that, he pressed something on the screen and lights appeared outside her window. The next thing she knew he was climbing out the window and into his waiting sleigh. “Just think about it, Kate.” And he was gone.

Kate sat on the floor in her bedroom. What did an overblown, fantasy character know about work anyway! She had worked her socks off, no present, well bah humbug to him.

The next she knew a dim light was coming through her curtains. Looking at her watch it was 8am. She was lying on the floor in the lounge, still in her clothes from yesterday. Jumping up she rushed to her bedroom. No, all was as it should be. Thank god, it had all been a wine induced dream.

Back in the kitchen she started up her coffee machine and put some food down for the meowing cats. Ah, Christmas Day. Two days to relax before getting back on the bandwagon. She had a small tree in the lounge area, a token gesture to the date. Underneath were a handful of presents from family. Perplexed she spotted one she hadn’t seen before. It had gold wrapping paper and was tied with a beautiful bow.

Taking it back to the sofa she opened it slowly. Inside was a white box that contained a mug. On the mug where the simple words – ‘To the best boss ever, from KOD.’ Inside the package was a card signed by the whole team, with lots of personal messages wishing her a good holiday.

Kate leant back on the sofa. She was genuinely touched. She thought they all hated her guts. She felt bad now because she’d done nothing for anyone for Christmas. Closing her eyes she thought back to her dream, a voice coming in to her head. ‘It costs nothing to be nice.’ Perhaps she would heed imaginary Santa’s comments, a little, in 2022.

If you want to more about the exploits of Kate and the team at KOD, you can read all in our two books – available on amazon or via kindle unlimited. Just search for Nolanparker. Merry Christmas!

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Tea, cake and plotting

Teaandcake

Phil: Here’s a photo we haven’t shown you for a while – the essentials of a NolanParker planning session.

Sat in the sunshine, we discussed Book 3, and how we will manage to finish it. Discussions that were powered by tea and cookies produced by the Nolan’s fair hand. She is so multi-talented!

After a long break, the first job was to read everything and work out where we are. The good news is that the book is a lot further on than I remember it. And, more importantly, it’s pretty good. Loads of funny stuff balanced with some serious plot lines too.

Pondering on how we take things forward, we’ve decided to work on the endings – ‘dings because there are two strands to this novel and we need to wrap them both up. One in particular required much chat at at least 3 cookies each to plan out – but that’s the bit we really enjoy and something I’ve missed while we have been away from writing book stuff.

Now the hard work starts – turning those ideas into words on a page. Watch this space.

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Summer on a Sunny Island – Sue Moorcroft

Summer on a Sunny Island: The uplifting new summer read from the Sunday Times bestseller, guaranteed to make you smile! by [Sue Moorcroft]

Candice: I have to admit I have been rubbish at writing blog posts recently. I have a lot on my mind and it means I get to the end of Wednesday and go – oh bum I’ve forgotten to write my blog post! Phil is very good at not reminding me(telling me off) about it.

But in the middle of all of this I have been reading. Its a great escape from anything that is going on around me.

As part of my trips to the Library I have been exploring other books that I might not have found in the supermarket, and this was one in the ‘quick reads’. Summer on a Sunny Island caught my eye as it was all about holidays – something that I am missing at the moment.

The premise is around Rosa, who splits from her long term boyfriend and decamps to Malta for the summer. She is lucky enough that her mom, a professional chef, grew up there and they can spend the summer crafting her new cookery book while Rosa decides what to do next.

Living upstairs from Rosa and her Mom is Zach, hard working but with a background of getting in trouble, leaving him estranged from his family, particularly his disapproving dad.

With a number of stories crossing over within the book its runs along nicely.

Zach takes a local boy who is getting into trouble under his wing, causing drama.

Dory, Rosa’s mom falls in love, and this causes issues with her ex-husband.

Rosa’s ex-boyfriend causes Rosa all kind of turmoil as his messes her about over their split. This impacts on her trying to decide what she really wants to do with her life.

Zach’s family come back together, and drama ensues with his sisters and his parents.

But the underlying story is that of Zach and Rosa. Its the classic ‘will they wont they’ as they go on not dates, fall out, get confused messages but eventually fall in love. But its nicely done. All the other story lines make for an interesting read and the background of sunny Malta add to the charm.

I enjoyed the thoughts of relaxing a sunlounger or swimming in the sea, even though it will be awhile until I get to do that. So you want a break from home working this is a perfect light read.

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The Element of Surprise

Wonder Woman (2017 film).jpg

Candice: I had an interesting lunch time walk yesterday. After spending the morning trying to copywrite 20 letters, I felt I needed a break from the laptop and a turn round the block.

Now, I have become very familiar with said block over the last year. When I leave the house it actually becomes ‘which route can we go today without going slightly mad at seeing the same things over and over again?’. I mentally picked my route and set off, a little chilled as the temperature has really dropped over the last few days.

I’m just coming to end of the route and there are some roadworks. They are laying new broadband cable for someone, in fact they have been doing it for over a week and its been a bit of a pain. Thank gawd that at the moment my only commute is the odd trip to school, in the opposite direction.

I watch this black Honda Civic do a three point turn in the road and pull up. I’m thinking they must live in one of the houses and can’t get on the drive due to the work. I then spot one of the occupants get out, hood over his head as he sidles round the side of an unoccupied open back truck, with road digging equipment on the back. Next thing I know he is lifting off one of the pieces of kit.

At this point I jump into action as I realise what is going on. I’ve got my phone in my pocket so I get it out to take photos. I can’t get the attention of the workmen as they are too far away, and its too noisy.

Of course I can’t unlock my photo quickly as I am fumbling around. By this point the driver must have spotted me as the next think I know the Civic is burning off up a side round, passenger hiding in his seat while the Driver has his hand up to obscure his face as he drives past. I’ve managed to get off one photo with the reg of the car.

I don’t know if they grabbed something or not, so run down to the workmen to warn them something might have been nicked. Luckily their kit is chained down on the back of the truck so nothing was taken.

After many thanks from them I walk home, still shell shocked from what happened.

It all happened so quickly, I’m still amazed I managed to register what was going on. If I had been in a car I never would have done, or looking at my phone which is what most people do all day. According to my friends, I am now ‘Wonder Woman’. I’ll take that.

Good books all rely on the element of surprise to keep us engaged and get the adrenaline flowing. A twist, a death, anything to make the reader go ‘Oh’, and then they want to read on to see what happens next. Life can be boring at the moment, so see what you can find – if it’s a crop of bluebells, a text message to an old friend who you haven’t spoken to in a while – to help keep up your ‘element’ of surprise and keep the day fresh. I wouldn’t recommend a robbery every day though!

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Without problems, there are no solutions

When Emma opened her gorgeous little chocolate shop in the harbour village of Warkton-by-the-Sea, she realised a lifelong dream. Love is also blossoming with her hunky beau, Max, who’s slowly healing her fragile heart.

A rival sweet shop and killjoy landlord give Emma a headache, and when a face from the past turns up unannounced, Emma finds herself spiralling down memory lane. With Max’s crazy work schedule driving him to distraction, Emma’s in danger of making some choices she might regret . . .

With close friends, spaniel Alfie, and the whole village behind her, can Emma get the chocolate shop and her love life back on track?

Phil: Spoiler Alert. The book does not end with Emma sitting on the steps of the local war memorial, sucking the dregs from a bottle of Diamond While concealed in a plastic bag and watching the shop burn, consuming the bodies of her landlord and Max who had been having an affair.

Nope, it’s happy ending time, pretty much as you would expect from the cover. All the problems are solved, hunky Max is everything she wants him to be and all the bad choices are forgotten.

And relax.

The Nolan and I have been talking about marketing recently. She explained that if you want to sell a product, the first job is to identify a problem the customer has. Then you tell them how you are going to solve it for them. Simple, ut effective.

That’s what the blurb on the back of the book is doing – setting up a load of problems, with the promise that they will all be solved by the time you close the covers. Let’s be honest, we want that happy ending. Life is rubbish enough and books like this are lovely to wallow in, like a warm bath.

Every story needs a conflict at its core. Without this, it’s just words.

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Something bad is on the way

Phil: I’m reading the excellent All the lonely people by Mike Gayle, but as I look at the book right now, a thought hit me.

I’m 2/3rd of the way through, but I know something bad is going to happen.

The story is partly told in flashback, and so we know where the characters are now, and where they were years ago. And not all the characters are in the Now.

So, somewhere in the remaining pages, there are bad things going to happen.

Perhaps I should stop reading and everything will be all right, but that would deny me the pleasure of finishing off the book. I probably should remember that these aren’t real people, but then I’ve invested in them and care what happens. And (I have the surname for it) I’m nosy.

Does anyone else ever feel like this?

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A little man with a big story

Phil: The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn takes place in 1625 and follows Nat Davy – a man who became “the Queen’s Dwarf”. Based loosely on a real person, Sir Jeffrey Hudson, it weaves a story around his life from being sold by his father and living as a plaything (initially) of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles the first.

The book is an interesting and enjoyable historical romp. I suspect that if you are a hard-core history buff, you’ll we clenching your fists in a few places as fictitious versions of real events unfold, or at least versions that have been enhanced by imagination simply because there is no other way to do it.

I found it fascinating to read the tale of the English Civil war from the losing side. Nat is firmly embedded in the Royalist camp and even though he doesn’t rate the king highly, doesn’t disagree with the basic idea of someone with the God-given right to rule the country. This is a world, where you find yourself forced to fight, and die, for a cause that you might not believe in. Nat’s brother is enlisted to the Parliamentary side simply by being in the wrong place (at home) when they took over his village. He doesn’t want to fight and has no interest in politics – all that stuff seems a long way away from his rural village in the era before instant communication.

The Queen grows from a terrified 15-year-old the entire country dislikes (she is a Catholic) to a powerful force behind the throne that the country hates.

Nat is devoted to her, and becomes a trusted confidant. Both are outsiders, her because of her faith, him because he stoped growing at ten years old. She lives in a palace full of intrigue and suspicion where courtiers brief against each other and vie for the ear of the king. It all sounds very similar to politics today!

I’m not really one for historical novels, but this is a real page-turner. I’m sure history buffs will find much to criticise, but it’s not a school exercise book, it’s an enjoyable story which has a historical background. My limited knowledge means I didn’t spot any major issues – but the author has stuck to many established facts for the main events in the story. What she has intended is the stuff that wouldn’t be recorded anyway.

 

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The Defamation of Strickland Banks

Album cover for The Defamation of Strickland Banks

Candice: I’ve not been driving around much these days. Usually, a long drive is my opportunity to sort through the thousands of songs I have on my iPod and pick something I haven’t listened to for a while, or something new. Or listen to that new album I have bought, all the way through.

We don’t consume music, books, TV or film in the same way that we used to. Everything’s short and sharp, a quick fix for instant gratification. I buy as many singles as I used to buy when I was a DJ back at University, or I just listen to new songs in Spotify. Occasionally an artist comes along and I think, I might want to listen to your whole album and I buy it on download. I don’t even do CD’s any more, which I used to always have to keep.

This dipping in and out means that the concept of an whole album seems alien to a lot of people, we only listen to the tracks we want to hear. But that doesn’t always mean you get the best stuff, just the dance track which will sell well in the charts.

What I have been doing on my shorter drives in the car is to put the iPod on shuffle, which means it can throw me a weird and wonderful collection of stuff including things I haven’t heard in years. Up popped the other day a song by Plan B, actually from the album Ill Manors, but it reminded me of his ‘concept’ album – The Defamation of Strickland Banks. The album is a story in itself, telling the tale of a man wrongly accused of raping a woman. The premise is clever as each song leads from the other as he goes from having a big night out, a one night stand, court and then jail. The subject matter is tough but the songs relate the feelings of the character as he goes through each stage of the journey and it certainly doesn’t glamourize prison and what happens ‘inside’.

I mentioned it to Phil the other day and he professed to have not heard of the album, and said it wouldn’t be his cup of tea. But Mr Parker I think you need to give it a try. Even if you don’t like the tunes, the lyrics are worth a listen. My personal favourite is ‘Stay too long’ – its got a thumping beat and a catchy hook, though I can’t play it in the car with my daughter as the language degenerates at the end!

To me songs can be just as interesting as books. They tell their own story and after often created as a cathartic experience for the writer. Phil and I write stories, but to a lot of artists their album is a story. In this case it’s a very clever one and I encourage to go back and visit this album even though it’s 10 years old if you fancy dipping into something new.

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