Tag Archives: writing

Be brave at work and take a break

Phil: A couple of weeks ago, Candice wrote about being brave and how her taking a big leap eventually lead to the two of us writing books.

She wasn’t alone in taking a leap like this. Back in 2008, I discovered that I was to gain a new layer of management above me. Quite why this was was a bit of a mystery as the role seemed to be covered by someone higher up the food chain, but I applied for the job and as expected, failed to land it.

In the run-up, I had decided that if I didn’t get it, I wasn’t going to hang around. To be honest, I knew the guy running our department didn’t like me much and I wasn’t doing a very good job at handling this. There is a skill to managing your boss and it’s one I’m pretty hopeless at. My tongue is freer of bite marks than it should be!

Anyway, I decided that I would blow my savings on a “gap year”. We’ve mentioned in the past that I’m rubbish at taking holiday so I felt I was owed some big time and if I wasn’t at work, I felt I could take it. People said I was being brave taking a leap into the unknown, but I had a little confidence, although not as much as I claimed.

Sadly, 8 weeks after I left, the economy fell apart. I decided to bin the holiday idea and try to get back into work.

Now, unlike my friend, I don’t just walk into jobs. I hate the application process as much as I hated revising for exams – presumably why I have rubbish qualifications and once managed to apply for 60 jobs in a year and only get 3 interviews. I did manage to secure a couple of contracts looking after websites and it was at one of these that I met La Nolan. I remember starting and hearing about the mystical “Candice” for a week before she showed up after a holiday. Quite how we ended up chatting I don’t remember, but I’m very glad we did. So, our writing partnership is due to both of us being brave in our careers.

It’s Metal Health Awareness Week at the moment and the news is full of people telling others that they need to talk. With so much of our lives tied up with work, it’s here where the biggest problems can be found. I “escaped” a situation I felt was toxic. It wasn’t easy, and had my personal circumstances been different, might have been impossible. As it was it worked out OK.

Since then, I’ve had to jump again – although this time it was easier. Having a “manager” screaming and swearing at you because she’s been doing something she shouldn’t have been and you’ve risked exposing it makes the jump out of a part-time job a no-brainer. I can’t say there isn’t another leap in my future either.

Those suggesting ways people can help themselves in this situation will bang on about “mindfulness” – basically taking yourself out of your metal situation for a while to allow your brain to relax. This usually involves some chanting or meditation. I prefer to lose myself in my imagination.

Read a book that you enjoy – it doesn’t have to be good, just a page-turner.

Write a book. This doesn’t have to be good either, just somewhere for you to lose yourself devising a story. Both Candice and I have found this useful. Heck, we don’t even have to actually write, just the planning process where we bash ideas around is a joy and definitely a break from “proper” work.

Think of it as mentally freewheeling on a bicycle down a hill compared to puffing along up a hill. The wind is in your hair and you just enjoy the ride for a few precious minutes, recovering your energy for the next stuggle.

 

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One Enchanted Evening

Phil: It’s been mentioned on this blog more than once that celebrity authors wind me up.

I don’t mean authors who are famous for writing, but famous people who suddenly decide to put out a book. The publishers know that all it takes is said famous moniker in embossed letters across the cover and sales will be a dead cert. Even if the “name” doesn’t sell the book on its own, they will be an easy booking for chat shows and into Sunday supplements in the newspapers.

A deal is done, handsome advance paid and off they go.

If you think this is because I am jealous, you’d be dead right. It’s almost arguable that the only way to get a bestseller out nowadays is to be famous for something else and then develop a sideline in writing. Or get someone else to develop it for you.

So, how did I feel when I saw this book from Strictly Come Dancing prancer Anton du Beke hit my reading pile via my Mum and Sainsburys?

I mean come on, he’s the dancer with “personality”. The one normally lumbered with the joke contestant. He did a show about jumping through polystyrene walls.

All of which meant I came to the book willow expectations. To be honest, I was hoping for a “so bad it’s good” moment.

Annoyingly, it’s actually (grits teeth) not bad. Quite readable in fact.

OK, the plot revolves around the Grand Ballroom of the Buckingham hotel in London. The main character is the lead show dancer. You aren’t going to be surprised by this.

But, it’s 1936. The drums of war are starting to play. Oswald Mosely and the Mitford sisters are on the scene. Plenty of people quite like that nice Mr Hitler over in Germany, not least the King and Mrs Simpson. It was the era when Viscount Rothermere was happy to write his infamous piece with the headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” in both the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. There are riots in the East End where the police stand by as fascists try to force out the Jewish population.

The Buckingham is in the middle of this with many of the Nazi-fetishising upper classes meeting there.

It’s also a world of two halves – upstairs and downstairs. Dancer Raymond de Guise straddles both worlds. He comes from one, but has to fit into the other.

This is not the sort of topic you’d expect from the author. Yes, the glitz and dance stuff (he does bang on about this a bit) but the gritty bits? That was a surprise.

It’s a fat book but an involving read. Getting going through the first couple of chapters took effort but once you are, this is a page-turner. In the sense of a good, entertaining read.

The only problem – I’m sure Mr de Guise is supposed to be not unlike Mr du Beke. But the moment I read about his curly, black hair, every time he popped into my mind, all I could see was the man from the Go Compare advert and I’m sure that wasn’t supposed to happen!

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Dealing with Change

Change?

Candice: Phil and I have both been dealing with change recently.

We’ve had upheaval in our work environments which means we are trying to find out what the new norm is.   I’m commuting to a new role which means I have had to work out the new logistics of child drop off and pick up as well as how to get to work.  This even involves what shoes to wear as it is a 15-minute walk from the railway station to my office.

It’s been mental fun, as I work out where is the best place to park in the morning, what train pass I need, when to buy my pass, etc. down to how I am now going to fit in going to the gym my number of required times in the week as I don’t get home until past 6pm.  That time is fine in theory, but going straight to the gym means I miss seeing my daughter in the evening, something I don’t want to do every night.

I’m now a month in and still haven’t got it right.  Things like the fact you can’t get a parking space at my local station after 8am are causing an issue, as well as discovering that a snarl up in the town centre means an earlier train still just about gets me to school in time for pick up.  Sometimes I have to say the whole thing is melting my brain.

I’ll get there eventually, but this is the reason that people don’t change jobs, especially when they become parents, the logistics are too much to deal with.

My daughter is not a big fan of change either.  She’s not been happy about the fact I can no longer drop her off at class or pick her up early.  And this morning we’ve had tears as we’ve signed her up to tennis lessons this term, and she was adamant she doesn’t want to go.

What I do know is that she will be fine.  Every time we suggest something different she gets upset, and most of the time she comes back all smiles after a day at the holiday club or swimming lessons saying it was great.  It’s just getting over the fear of something new.  I understand as I feel the same.  I do like change, but I also know that I find it challenging, but putting myself through this widens my opportunities and makes me try new things.

Many years ago I sat an airport waiting to fly to America for the summer, to work in a summer camp, worried about what I had signed up for.  It was the best thing I ever did.  I left my job to do it and wasn’t even sure how I’d get on working with kids (I’m not a big fan) but I loved every minute and had experiences I still think about now.  And I walked straight back into a job when I came back.  This is has set me up for doing similar things over the years, I’ve been to Australia and New Zealand on my own, and loved every minute.

With change comes new opportunities and we have to embrace them.  If I hadn’t changed jobs eight years ago, I wouldn’t have met my writing partner.  If I’d hadn’t opened my mouth and started chatting to him I wouldn’t have been two books down and one more in the pipeline (though frustratingly not any further along at present, that’s another blog post).

Go on, give it a go.

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The Beachside Guest House

Phil: Vanessa Greene books get vintage teacups on the cover. As far as her publisher is concerned, that’s the rule.

Odd, because this book concerns three friends who drop out of their lives and set up a guest house on the Greek Island of Paros.

No teacups there.

I can’t help feeling Ms Greene is being let down here. The cover says “snuggly heartwarming and safe story”. Inside, there is plenty of plot that is safe enough for early evening Sunday television, there is also a bit of bite.

Disillusioned charity worker Rosa finds financial irregularities with her bosses daughter. Bee is about to get married to her childhood sweetheart. They drop everything, including Stuart, Bee’s fiance who I think gets a rough deal, and head to the location of their most important holiday together.

Rosa buys the old windmill guest house they remember staying in, they restore it and return the place to being a successful business.  There’s some heart-searching along the way, an old boyfriend returns and departs. New love is found. So far, so chick-lit. Nothing to disturb the sunlounger there.

Bite arrives with Iona, trapped in a psychologically abusive relationship. Years ago, she lost contact with her friends, but they didn’t forget her and use the move to reestablish contact. The chapters written from Iona’s point of view are genuinely chilling as we see how her boyfriend is controlling her. By the third chapter, you are past the point of willing her to leave, you want him smashed in the face with a heavy or sharp object.

The three women’s stories are journeys – each one grows and changes thanks to their involvement in the project. It is heartwarming, and I suppose you know from the start that everything is going to be all right in the end, but then that’s what we want from a book like this. There is a hint of a sequel right at the end, perhaps the author liked the characters so much she wasn’t ready to let them go?

The cover still intrigues me though. Is “the brand” more important than the contents?

 

 

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The Hideaway

Phil: In the book tsunami from my writing friend is a new title – The Hideaway by Sheila O’Flanagan.

I can guess why she picked it. The front shows a sunny villa and the back cover talks about “the enchanting Villa Naranja in Spain”. This is sun-lounger reading in every respect. Opening it in winter is going to make you want to jump on a ‘plane for a bit of sunshine.

The story revolves around Juno Ryan, an Irish radiologist who discovers that her boyfriend is married. Worse, she finds out he’s married when he’s killed in an earthquake. Along with his wife and child.

For obvious reasons, this upsets her and she ends up taking up the offer of a few months unpaid holiday at a villa in Spain.

There is a pool, complete with Greek God style poll cleaners. Regular chick-lit readers won’t be surprised what happens there. It is not the end of the story though.

In fact, the book splits reasonably nicely into three parts and getting it on with the pool boy is in the early stages. After that, things progress and you see Juno start to recover and grow as a person. She conquers some of the demons that hold her back thanks to her family as well as those caused by her relationship with a married man who lied to her.

The story is deeper and far more involved than most sunlounger fiction. It’s light enough to be pleasant, especially the running cat story arc, but involving enough that you are pleased you are reading it. The ending isn’t quite what you’d expect from the first half of the book.

Summing up, the book is better than the cover would suggest. You can enjoy this while covered in suntan lotion, but it’s just as good while supping a warming cup of tea in the rain.

 

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Time hurdles

2013 Nevada NIAA HS Track & Field / Reed Sparks Rotary Invitational / South Tahoe - Brandon Cramer - 300m Hurdles WinnerPhil: My life is full of “time hurdles”.

Let me explain. I look at my calendar when I’m busy and think “It’s OK. After such-and-such date/event, things will settle down”.

Each date or event is a “time hurdle”. Once I jump over it, things will be different. Hopefully better.

Time hurdles are fixed points on the calendar. Sometimes I can’t see beyond them. Not literally you understand, I’ll still book other things in and in my rational mind, I know that there will be days after the hurdle, it’s just that everything after that date has an air of unreality about it. I know they exist, but in a slightly etherial way as though I know, but don’t believe.

There are especially big-time hurdles.  Holidays, hospital appointments, big/serious work meetings, new jobs, weddings etc. I imagine those to look like the massive walls found in some showjumping events. Beyond these, the view is distinctly misty.

Most of the time though, the hurdles are smaller. I’ve just taken part in a show that required quite a bit of preparation. Now it’s over, the next hurdle is some filming work I need to get things ready for.

After this, I believe the rest of the month should be plain sailing.

But will it? As the hurdle gets closer, I find it easier to concentrate. My focus becomes laser-like. I imagine a horse feels the same heading towards a jump. I actually achieve more.

The plain sailing bit is where you need to keep a foot on the accelerator (yes I know I’m mixing metaphors, get over it) and get stuff done while the next hurdle is in the distance. I look forward to this coasting phase but know there are probably things I should be delivering. Things the approaching hurdle has permitted me to ignore for a while.

Does anyone else look at the calendar and feel like this?

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Why can’t writing be fun?

Phil: For the last few weeks, the Nolan has enjoyed a break from the daily grind which has seen us meeting up on a weekly basis for chatting and in theory, writing.

Truth is, there has been a lot more talking than typing. We’ve done a reasonable amount of planning but progress on Book 3 has been limited.

Both of us have had things other than writing on our minds and since we are mates, we talk about them. Afterwards, we both feel better, not just through the effects of tea and cake either!

I suppose we should feel guilty about this, and we do. But not much.

Writing is great. We’re really proud of the books produced so far, and looking forward to seeing how the next ones work out. But it’s not everything to either of us. We have lives as well.

Does this make us bad?

Some authors take great pride in hitting daily word targets. Writing has, we are told, got to be a painful process. Only by travelling through the fire, can you forge a book worthy of the name.

Well, sorry, but no.

You can’t write light chick-lit fiction if your day is spent agonising over every word. Our style is humorous and if you analyse every single line to death then you’ll suck all the fun out of it. Worse, you’ll create something so convoluted that any reader will need another book just to explain the one they are reading. We don’t want anyone opening ours to have to suffer. I know that “proper” literature is all about this, but we’ll steer clear of that thank you very much. Editing and polishing is one thing, agonising is another and enduring it doesn’t make you a better person.

Taking time to step back and look at what we are doing, we’ve worked out that for us, the journey is part of the fun. Yes, we’d love people to read an enjoy what we produce, but why shouldn’t it simply be a pleasurable activity?

Progress would be quicker if we knuckled down and got on with things, but maybe this isn’t everything. Perhaps the journey should be as pleasurable as the destination.

As it is, the weekly meet-ups are over. Candice has a posh new job and my work is going through one of its periodic explosions of demand. For the minute, tea, cake and finishing the book will have to be a dream, but, as Captain Sensible once said, “You’ve got to have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you going to have a dream come true?”

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