Tag Archives: writing

Death of a Bore

Phil: My pile of books to read has been going down and I found myself recently with a selection that while appealing, didn’t grab me. I felt the need for a proper novel with a story that I could fall into.

Dropping into my local library, I spotted Death of a Bore by M.C.Beaton on the shelves. As one of the dullest people you could wish to meet, I wondered if she was writing about me, and there is a picture of a steam train on the cover. Perfect. Out came the library card and the book came home with me.

First up, under the author’s name is “Author of the bestselling Agatha Raisin series”. I’ve heard of these but this book is from the Hamish Macbeth series of mysteries. I remember those, televised by the BBC back in the mid-1990s with Robert Carlyle in the lead role. It seems that this is so long ago, the more recent Raisin series, also televised a couple of years ago (but only on Sky so I haven’t seen it) is considered more of a selling point by the publisher.

Anyway, thanks to snow cancelling an event I was supposed to devote a weekend to, I decided to read the book in a day. The chance to do this rarely occurs but it’s lovely when you can devote the time to it. Proper relaxation.

Is the book any good?

Let me start by saying that Marion Chesney (M.C. Beaton) is a breathtakingly prolific author. There are 33 Macbeth books, 28 Raisin ones and 76 others according to Wikipedia. She is a writing machine!

So it’s no surprise that this isn’t the greatest work of fiction ever. I’ve read books with more depth, less clunky narrative and more polish. Characters are paper-thin much of the time and I didn’t really warm to Hamish much.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. That Hamish on the page bears no resemblance to Robert Carlye is a bit odd, but then Morse on the page isn’t much like John Thaw and people deal with it.

The style really reminds me of Agatha Christie. It’s a bit of a pot-boiler but who cares? I’ve tried to read books that were allegedly much “better” and gave up on them. This rattles along nicely and entertained me for a few hours. If you have a sunbed to lie on or just want to read for pleasure, its all good stuff.

Since the plot revolves around an authors murder and one of the things he does is inspire the local villagers to write, it’s odd that this has done the same for me. I think our books are every bit as well-written as Death of a Bore so there’s no reason that people shouldn’t enjoy them every bit as much as they obviously enjoy these.

Entertainment and inspiration. Not bad for a snowy Saturday afternoon.


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Simple stories = compelling narrative

Phil: A couple of weeks ago, I spent a Sunday afternoon in the Electric Cinema in Birmingham watching the 1973 film Westworld.

For those not familiar with this Michael Crichton written and directed film, the story follows a couple of guys heading off on holiday to the new and amazing Delos resort in 1983. Phenomenally expensive ($1000 a day!) they promise that “”Boy, have we got a vacation for you!”.

Indeed they have. Guests stay in either MedeivalWorld, RomanWorld or WestWorld, sharing the locations with incredibly lifelike robots who that can fight, kill or shag to their heart’s content.

This being a film, things go wrong. The robots develop some sort of virus (the first time this had ever been mentioned) and malfunction. Eventually, they kill all the guests except our hero. He finds himself pursued by Yul Brynner wearing the all-black costume last seen when he appeared in the Magnificent Seven. This time, he is an unstoppable robot gunslinger and the final third of the film is taken up with a chase around the park.

Brynner hardly speaks, or runs during this, making him a proper, menacing unstoppable force. I’ve seen the film before and it’s still edge-of-the-seat stuff.

“So, why have you illustrated this with a low-res picture of a dinosaur?”, I hear you ask.

Well, this screen grab comes from one of the greatest computer games of all time – 3D Monster Maze.

Launched in 1982 for the Sinclair ZX81 computer, the premise is simple. You are in a maze along with a T-Rex. You can’t see the beast, you have to run around and find the exit. If Rex sees you, he will give chase and probably eat you.

Since the computer was very basic, there wasn’t any sound. Instead, we had subtitles. The words “Rex has seen you” appearing at the bottom of the screen sent a shiver through the player as it was time to run or be dinner.

Graphics were low resolution as you can see, but it didn’t matter. Played in silence, this was properly spooky. OK, we weren’t used to first-person points of view in games back then but this just makes things more claustrophobic.

The game is really, really simple. But utterly addictive. You know what you’ve got to do and since there are only 3 keys for movement, how you’ve got to do it. It’s just you and a dinosaur.

Which is pretty much how WestWorld works.

We can put ourselves in the position of the “prey” in this particular hunt. The predator is unstoppable (Spoiler: In theory) but we will our hero to escape. Whatever plot holes there are (how are the guests stopped from fighting, killing and shagging each other rather than the robots in  MedeivalWorld and RomanWorld?) we cast them aside and get caught up in the action.

In fact, this is such a simple and effective plot that Crichton pretty much used it again in Jurassic Park (see, dinosaurs again) and James Cameron did it in The Terminator. I’m sure readers could suggest others. So, feel free to have a go in your novel too!

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Working while walking

Phil: I need to get more writing done. And, as mentioned last week, I need more exercise.

Now I think I’ve found a solution to the two problems.

Listening to the radio a few weeks ago, there was an interview with a children’s author who dictates the first draft of all his books to his phone while out for a walk. This sounded like a good idea, so I downloaded a suitable app and gave it a go.

First job – Dictate a 14-page article provided in handwritten form. 25 minutes later, I had a file. An hour after this, I’d been through, edited it for typos and sent it off to my editor to start on the process of subbing it to fit on the pages available. Results were pretty good, certainly no worse than my typing when I’m trying to work quickly and copying someone else’s text.

Next – Killing time waiting for an MOT test to finish, I headed to a local park to try and write a chunk of novel. 2,500 words laid down in an hour or so (I was interrupted by a couple of phone calls) but if I’m honest, when I looked at the file, it was a bit rubbish. OK, so turning it into an acceptable first draft didn’t take quite as long as starting with a blank page, but not far off.

I think the trick is to dictate properly. Reading someone else’s words was fine. Making up my own, the speaking is less regular and worse, I can’t stop myself doing the character voices. Slow down and the results are much better.

Despite this, I have a feeling that with practice, using my phone this way might work. It’s perfect for transcribing articles from others, and since I have half a dozen of those lined up this is A Good Thing. For novels, work in progress.

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Will it be light again?

Image result for sun rise


Candice: I’ve probably mentioned this before but I really don’t like the dark days we have in the UK.  I get slightly obsessed this time of year with when it is going to be light in the morning and evening.  It’s even stranger as it seems to get lighter in the evening before it gets that way in the morning.

Why don’t I like it? Well I struggle to get up as it feels like I’m getting up in the middle of the night.  This doesn’t help when I have someone who bounces in to my room all bright and breezy in the morning.

Days like today help when the sky is blue and the sun is shining, dark, cloudy days just make it feel like the sun has never come up.  I’m currently sat in our dining room soaking in as much sun as I can to get my Vitamin D levels up!

I have a long-term plan to build a sun room on to our house so that I can get as much sun as possible inside, with heating.  And when I retire I plan to take a sunshine holiday in January every year.

So how does this help or hinder the writing?  Well having a project helps me to get motivated in January.  I’m in the middle of stripping the wallpaper off our spare room to redecorate it into a much better office.  Its been the general dumping ground since we moved in.  We have new furniture, with fresh paint and a tidy then it will be a room I’ll feel like going in to, and therefore one I want to write in.  Well, that’s the plan anyway.  I find mess terribly distracting so anything that can stop the distraction.

Is it time to freshen up your writing space and find your new motivation?

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The Picture House by the Sea for pedants

The picture house by the sea is the Palace at Polwhipple – a lovely art deco cinema, nestled in front of azure Cornish seas. But it is long past its heyday now, and its only saving grace is Ferrelli’s, the family run ice-cream concession in the foyer, which is widely known as the best ice-cream for miles.
So when Ferdie, the owner of Ferelli’s, breaks his leg, his granddaughter Gina drops everything to come and help out. But when she arrives she is dismayed by the state of the cinema, which she remembers fondly from summer holidays when she was little, and she is determined to give it the makeover it deserves. Along with local renovation expert Ben, she sets about reviving the Palace to its former glory. 
But the cinema needs more than a lick of paint. Its very future is under threat from a developer with greed in his eyes. Can Gina save the place before it is too late?

Phil: There’s a lot of this book – 449 pages to be precise – and it’s a really good fun read. You can probably guess the outcome from the first page (Spoiler: she ends up with the hunky old friend and all ends well) but this doesn’t really matter. In fact, it might even be that the lack of jeopardy is part of the reason I rattled through it and enjoyed the lot.

My only diversion was to check whether the town of Polwhipple in Cornwall actually exists – it doesn’t – but then the story lives in that special universe where a lot of light chick-lit exists. The sun shines, you can survive financially from a vintage clothes shop or give up your job in London for 4 months and not be bankrupt. I imagine it’s the same world that many TV shows inhabit where a columnist for a local paper services the mortgage on his 4-bed house in the capitals suburbs. We’d like to live there, but as we can’t a little holiday will suffice.

However, I feel that there are few points I need to pick up:

Ben did not show Gina around the signal room and ticket office at the local preserved railway. He gave her a tour of the signal BOX and ticket office. That’s as annoying as suggesting they would go to the train station to do this…

Cinemas don’t have “archive rooms”. Films do arrive on multiple reels as described but before the projectionist shows them, each length of film is stuck to the others and then wound onto a big reel. This is 4ft in diameter (a bit more for Lord of the Rings) and weighs as much as a small child. Trust me, you don’t lose one! Each print of a film costs about a grand so the distributors want them back after you’ve finished showing – the only thing you might find in the cupboards are trailers and that’s only because they don’t chase when no-one bothers sending them back. If you want to save your cinema by showing old films, you’ll need to order them from your distributor, although it can be done – and it is popular with audiences.

One area where the book is spot on is that all volunteers on a preserved railway, indeed railway enthusiasts generally, are hunky surfers with rock hard six-packs. And they always get the girl.

I think La Nolan passed this book on to me as I have been a projectionist, and can be described as a railway enthusiast (If you said “trainspotter”, you are both wrong and due a slap) so would either enjoy the story or niggle at the details.

Just to be awkward, I’m going to do both.

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Who looks after the writers?

Phil: I’m starting to worry about our burgeoning careers as humourous novelists. I’m worried that we might be invited to work in television and I’m not sure I like the idea very much any more.

Reading Paul Merton’s autobiography “Only when I laugh”, he describes working on a TV show (and I can’t work out which one despite 20 minutes leafing through the book again) where there was a script. Being a writer himself, he trotted off at one point to thank the scriptwriters for their efforts. He finds them shut away in a little room hidden down a corridor. They are surprised as none of the previous hosts has bothered to pay them a visit.

This compounded the best TV I saw over the festive period.

Eric, Ernie and Me, tells the story of how Eddie Braben essentially created the popular duo Morecambe and Wise.

Lured away from working for Ken Dodd, he saved the pair from being nothing more than a footnote in entertainment history by changing their act dramatically. Basically, what you see on TV is Eddie’s work. And if the drama is to be believed, they didn’t always appreciate his work, at least in the early days.

For his efforts, he got two bouts of “nervous exhaustion” thanks to the stress of single-handily writing the most popular TV shows of the period. The audience demanded Morecambe and Wise and Eddie was the only one who could deliver.

That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun to me. I know I need a deadline to produce work, but I also know how I fall apart when the deadlines are continuous and never-ending. At least I have a friend to share the burden and commiserate when times are tough. And someone who appreciates the effort.

She still nicks bits of my cake though…

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Piling on the Christmas pressure

Phil: So there we are, sitting in a cafe awaiting the delivery of drinks and cake, and La Nolan passes me a Christmas card. I open it up and along with the exhortation to have a merry festive period, is the message above.


I mean, we’ve only just finished Book 2. Can we really be releasing book 3 in 12 months time?

Worse was to come. We exchanged gifts. Normally this is a low key business but this time she insisted that I open this, “Because I want to see your face.”.

I did as I was told and found a copy of the book Make a Killing on Kindle.

Ahah! I realise that as the techie half of the team, it’s going to be my job to make sure our books are found by as many people as possible.

But there was more to come, I opened the cover and found:

It seems someone has serious ambitions and loves Only Fools and Horses.

Somehow, I suspect I’m the Rodders in this partnership. I’ll be getting a 3-wheel van. Candice will be behind the wheels of the Capri Ghia!

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