Tag Archives: writing

The Temperance – a writers retreat

 

Phil: With the NolanParker writing team back in action, we need to find places to meet. Places with Tea. And cake.

In the last few months, a couple of possible venues have opened up in Leamington Spa. One that caught my eye with its retro theme, is The Temperance.

I don’t believe in cluttering up coffee shops with laptops if they aren’t happy to be home to people spending hours working away.  We will buy drinks and food, but people who aren’t composing great works of literature will be quicker in and out and therefore more profitable.

A quick e-mail asking if laptops were OK was swiftly answered with the news that we wouldn’t be the first people bashing out a novel on the premises. In fact, at least one member of staff is an author!

Arriving on a cold Monday morning, we ordered tea and salad sandwiches. These were served in the sort of china my Nan would have approved of. The stuff you drink while holding your pinkie finger aloft!

The sandwiches were delicious, the only complaint being the cake selection was very limited, the previous batch having sold out and new supplies arriving the next day.

For an old-fashioned looking cafe. there were lots of laptops in use, and a couple of people using tables for meetings.

After a bit of chat, we got stuck in. I knocked out 1200 words and Candice started the job of making sure the current manuscript adhered to our timeline.

Very productive.

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New Year. New ideas. And cake.

Phil: We’re back!

A trip to a local farm shop cafe and we are stuffing our faces with cake, and talking about writing.

The thing is, our chat ranged far and wide – ending up with some new plans that now just need some polish. Candice has got her research head on and a page full of notes to look at.

Watch this space…

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I resolve to…

to doPhil: Since la Nolan provided some sensible advice on New Year Resolutions last week, I thought I’d better write mine down to see if they stick. 

1 – Do less work.

No, I’m not being lazy, it’s just that working from home in a job that is also one of my hobbies, the work can expand to fill the time available if I let it. Evenings, weekends, they can all disappear into a maelstrom of doing “stuff”. I need to be more disciplined – not just making sure I take breaks but when I am working, get stuff done. That means lots of planning, writing down clearly defined tasks and ticking things off once they are complete. I can be really focused, but can also drift hopelessly. More of the former and less of the later for 2019.

2 – Promise less

And hopefully, deliver more. Sometimes life can seem like an endless succession of spinning plates that you have to keep going. Jumping between projects is no way to deliver anything of quality and a quick way to disappointing everyone. I love the smell of a new project, it’s just that I’m hopeless at estimating how long it’s going to take me, or how I’ll fit it in with everything else. Better to say do a good job of a few things rather try to do everything and flounder. I’m even worse in my own time, there is a huge backlog of projects sitting in my store. Even if I gave up work completely, it would take years to work through them, but still, I’m “Ohh a shiny new thing” every time I go to a shop…

3 – Go out for more walks.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ll train for a marathon. That’s just setting myself up for a fall. I love walking and it’s good for me. I think I need to develop an appetite for podcasts to listen to as I wander.

4- Read more books.

I’m not too bad at this one so there’s a good chance it will stick. I’ve taken to my local library again in 2018 as I could be confident that I’d find books that suited my mood. There are some that come my way from friends and family, but if I’m not in the right frame of mind for them, I need to go and get the right book rather than not reading because I don’t fancy whatever is on the pile. I don’t really understand why, but if I have a good book on the go, I do seem to achieve more at the same time. Can anyone explain this?

5 – Read fewer magazines, or at least only those that I need to. 

It’s time to tackle the never-ending stream of magazines and periodicals that come my way. At a rough guess, I can see a dozen magazines a month. There’s no way I read all that lot. I need to flick through, read stuff that matters and bin the rest. That and cancel some of the subscriptions for publications that simply aren’t getting read at all.

6 – Sleep more.

Do I need to check Facebook just before I go to sleep? Probably not. Read a book for a bit until I’m properly tired and then get to sleep, that’s the best plan.  Things always look blackest in the depth of the night, so the less lying awake with my brain whirring away I end up doing, the better. Not just more sleep, but better sleep is on the agenda.

Hopefully, all this will allow me to write more novel – a project that I really care about and (mostly) thoroughly enjoy working on. I’m pretty sure a degree of flexibility will be required soon once the other half of this team gets back into the swing of things and we get back up to speed. I don’t want to get that look over the cake when I’ve not done my homework!

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Welcome to 2019

Image result for give up caffeine

 

Candice: I’m writing this blog post on New Year’s Eve, listening as the radio station tells me that NZ and Oz are off celebrating their new years already.  Always find that concept a little strange, though I have travelled to both of those countries, it’s still weird that they are on different time frames.

So 2019 is a new start for me.  I’m looking for a new job and it’s giving me the chance to sit down and rethink what I want out of work; the balance of money versus enjoyment being a big consideration.  I’m currently writing a list of what I really want and what my actual aim is to help with the application process.

I actually think that is a really good way to start a New Years Resolution list, so rather than writing the things that you never actually do – like join a gym and go regularly, lose weight etc, if you actually write your end goal and the pros and cons for it, it might make you work harder for it.

eg Lose two stone.  Hard to aim for, too big a number, just hanging over you waiting for you to fail.

Real aim – Feel more comfortable being me.  Does that actually mean the weight, or does it mean a different job, spending more time with friends?  Do you actually eat because you are bored at work, bored at home, unhappy at work, not getting enough fresh air, stuck in rut with cooking?  There are lots of reasons why those two stones won’t shift. Book a few nights out with the girls, arrange for the kids to have a sleepover with the grandparents once a month, walk to work/around the block after work and suddenly you might find you’ve lost a stone.

My big one for this year is to drink less caffeine.  Many years ago I cut down to one to two caffeinated drinks a day.  I did notice a difference in my ability to get up in the morning and also weight maintenance.   Since being a parent I’ve taken to having a cuppa first thing in the morning, and it just carries on from there. I end up having four or five teas across the day, even though if I am home, there are decaf tea bags available too.  Part of it is boredom, I use it as an excuse to get up from the desk and have a break.  But I do think it’s making me feel more tired, and impacting on my sleep (and the rubber ring round my waist). My real aim is not to be so tired and enjoy my job, and less tea drinking will come.

I have lots of other things I would like to do, most of them book related, but they are rolling year to year.  Again, need to knuckle down and work out what the real reason I’m not that bothered about marketing for my own books.  That’s a question for another blog.

Happy New Year all!

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Working from home means never taking a day off – but they can’t stop you dreaming

DSC00530“The office will be closed from lunchtime Friday, December 21st to Thursday, December 27th”

“I’m breaking up on Friday. Can you get your stuff to me a little earlier”

Phil: Ahh, the joys of working from home. Constant reminders that your colleagues will be enjoying some enforced lounging around, while you just see those days as an opportunity for plenty of uninterrupted work.

Christmas is a joy. Despite my friend painting me as a bit of a humbug, I really love the present giving part, the decorations and the cheesy festive music. It’s just that I like it to be weeks away and not looming toward me. All I see is deadlines that always seem to be tightened. Suddenly, you find yourself having to take into consideration other people’s holidays. Holidays that don’t apply to you.

Being able to work at a time to suit me is lovely, but I do miss the days when a bank holiday actually meant something and wasn’t just a vague idea relating to a day that was (for me) like any other.

I know I shouldn’t moan about this. Having seen the Nolan schedule, her festivities are planned like a military campaign. You can imagine a map with little models of child and husband being pushed around by people with long sticks – “14:00 hours, child enters stage left. 14:15 child says line in nativity play. We need to rendezvous before then…”

All this Christmas chaos means the writing has taken a back seat. A couple of weeks ago, I congratulated myself on building up a plot strand I’m working on to 7000 words. That’s where it has stayed since then.

But, this doesn’t mean progress has entirely stalled. I might not be typing, but I am acting the scene out in my mind. Once I find a gap in my schedule, I’ll be turning my mental picture into words. Thinking sessions can take place any time and anywhere. While driving or sitting on a bus. At 3am in the morning instead of worrying about how I’ll get everything done is a pretty good idea too.

Anyway, I need to go. Work to do and I haven’t bought a present for the Nolan yet…

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Conversion to TV

Phil: A couple of years ago (doesn’t time fly), Candice reviewed a book I’d passed on to her – The Christmas Train by David Baldacci. It’s a heartwarming tale set on a cross-country train in the USA. We both enjoyed it.

I hadn’t twigged that the book has been turned into a movie. But it has. So I watched it.

The first thing to realise is that the studio responsible for this is Hallmark. The people who make the greetings cards. As such, you won’t be surprised that the result is a gritty expose of life for struggling railroad workers forced to give up the festive season with their families to mend track.

No, of course it isn’t.

This is comfort TV. You don’t watch it, you wallow as though in a nice, warm bath.

The first change is that our journalist hero is taking the train as a promise to his father, and not because he’d been banned from flying for an air rage incident. This isn’t essential to the story, although anyone trying the book, or reading the excerpt on the Hallmark website, might be surprised to find this out.

A few characters have vanished, but more due to the pressure of time than anything else. Max Powers has an assistant in the book, but not the film. I didn’t miss him.

Perhaps the biggest change is the removal of the jeopardy when Tom and Elenor head out into the snow when the train gets stuck. The book really places them in danger and provides a pivot for their love story. In the film, they get a bit lost, then find a remote ranch and return to the train in a horse-drawn sledge. This apparently causes all the snow to melt or at least it’s pretty much gone in the next scene.

The movie doesn’t need to place them in jeopardy to make the characters realise their true feelings because it’s signposted from the start that they will fall in love again. There’s a bit of bickering, but almost every other character says, “Get back together you pair of muppets” (I paraphrase, but you get the gist).

Don’t get me wrong, the book is unlike all other Baldacci output in that’s a heart-warming tale from the off. You know what’s going to happen. No-one dies.

The film takes this and adds shmaltz. At one point the bartender offers a hot chocolate and asks “One candy cane or two?”. I’m thinking “Sugarcanes in hot chocolate? Noooo. You’d be bouncing off the walls!” but it’s a perfect allegory for the work whoever turned the book into screenplay had to do.

Despite this, it’s not a terrible film You need to be in the mood for it in the same way you need to be in the mood to consume endless Christmas food, but then that’s what the festive season is all about, isn’t it?  I do wonder what the author made of it though.

 

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Having the faith to put yourself in the book

Phil: Last week, I wrote that I felt the need for a nice, readable story and thanks to my local library had picked up A Brush With Death by Ali Carter.

I’m pleased to say it ticked the boxes perfectly. A pleasant read with a reasonably easy to follow plot that fitted my day. Doing a little digging, apparently this fits into the “Cozy Crime” genre. Think Miss Marple with a little less bite.

The plot is simple enough, Lord of the Manor dies, the police decide it’s murder and artist Susie Mahl solves the crime. I guessed whodunit pretty early in the book, but this didn’t spoil things – in fact I wanted to see if I was right. I was, although the method I had settled on wasn’t quite correct.

There are a couple of areas where the book stands out.

First, we learn a great deal about the English upper classes. If I ever find myself called to stay for the weekend at a great country house, I will have a better understanding of the protocol thanks to this book. We learn that all houses tend to run to a timetable, and once you know this, you can plan your trips snooping around. Stick to the rules, including not marrying anyone beneath your station, and everyone will get along swimmingly.

My main fascination was with the lead character, Susie Mahl, herself. She’s an artist who has found painting dog portraits to be a lucrative job. Handily, it sees her invited to many country seats for the weekend, you need to get to know the pooch to render them in paint. Apparently, this pays enough to buy a house in Sussex and a lot of very expensive luxury underwear. This detail is covered repeatedly.

Why? Because art follows life. It turns out that Ali Carter paints pet portraits and likes luxury underwear.

The most unusual aspect of Susie though is that she is a fairly strict catholic. At one point she goes to mass and also hints at disproval of divorce. Religion plays very little part in British novels, in fact I can’t think of a character who has expressed any interest in this direction. OK, we have Bother Cadfael and Father Brown, but they are monk and priest respectivly – it’s a massive part of their character. What I mean is we rarely see religion being part of a “normal” person’s life in this way.

It’s odd that this should leap out at me. In America and many other parts of the world, religion is a massive part of many people’s lives. You very much wear it on your sleeve. Politically, following the right flavour of God can be more important in the decisions a voter makes than a candidates policies or behaviour. Despite this, I don’t reacall many modern day American novels showing the impact of belief on their character.

My guess is that this is another area where author and character cross over. The interview I linked to above mentions a post-accident pilgrimage, but never explicitly mentions this being a religious one. That’s simply not how we do stuff in Britian. The Church of England is as inoffensive as possible and rarely do we have the zealots found in other branches of faith.

Ultimatly, “Write what you know” is an oft trotted out maxim, and one Ali Carter appears to have taken to heart, with interesting results. Susie Mahl is a stand-out character and will easily carry the three-novel deal Ms Carter has landed. She’d probably make a good TV drama too, something for the Sunday evening wind-down slot on BBC 1. However, I wonder if her faith will make the transition to the screen?

 

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