Tag Archives: writing

Don’t fall down the research rabbit-hole

Phil: Have you ever found yourself on Wikipedia reading up on something and unable to resist clicking on a related link? At the time you tell yourself it’s relevant to the topic, but then there is another link, and another. And another.

You start reading about tractor production in post-war America and half a day later you’re learning about the proclivities of minor German aristocracy in 1830.

It’s addictive, something to do with dopamine in your brain, and the urge to procrastinate while kidding yourself that any education is good. I mean, who doesn’t need to know about flat-roofed pubs for example?

I’ve just finished the enjoyable Funny You Should Ask book by the QI Elves. It’s full of unrelated facts such as what would happen if you tried to dig through the Earth, or what causes deja-vu. If you enjoy odd snippets of information, it’s a good fun read.

The most useful fact in the book isn’t in the main text, but the introduction.

When writing for the quiz, they start with the answer and then craft a question around it. Working the other way around means endlessly researching as they fall down the rabbit-hole (named after the rabbit-hole Alice falls down in Wonderland) finding linked facts when they should be working.

I’m not sure this will help cure my procrastination, but maybe it will do something for you. In the meantime, I need to go a read up on The Auburn and Lidcome Advance. You never know when knowledge of old Australian newspapers will come in handy!

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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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Lockdown reading

Candice: I could write about the fact its been a year and a day since Boris told us all to stay home. But there has been a lot of coverage on that so I wanted to write about something else.

I would say that I haven’t read any more or less that usual in this year of lock down. The biggest problem I have had is getting hold of books. The range in a supermarket is never quite the same as a good book shop, and then at times even getting to a supermarket to buy a book was hard.

I did try and do book sharing with the neighbours but we either didn’t like the same books or they only read on Kindle so couldn’t share.

Phil and I have done some parcels to each other, as we haven’t been able to share books face to face. But we now keep forgetting who sent what to whom!

The other day I spotted and article on the BBC website about celebrity recommendations for lock down reading. BBC Arts – Culture in Quarantine – Meet the authors: What have Big Book Weekend’s guests been reading? so I thought I’d have a look. It was part of the Big Book Weekend, last weekend and you can hear interviews with each celeb about their favourite book.

The one that interested me the most was the book that Russell Kane recommended. It’s called ‘Wild Thing’ by Mike Fairclough. Its all about rediscovering how to be a child again as an adult, taking some of the stresses and strains that make us forget to have fun.

With over a year of not knowing what we can or can’t do, not being able to book or plan ahead to far as things keep changing, and home schooling for some of us, then perhaps its time to go back and take away some of these stresses. I’ve already decided to take time over the weekend when this is over, rather than stuff it full with expensive activities. Someone just wants to run round the garden sometimes, or play on the swings, and perhaps I do to (though I’m better on the trampoline). Anyone for back garden tennis?

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Lockdown is turning me into Bridget Jones

Phil: With all restrictions in place and our worlds clamped down hard, communications between members of team NolanParker have taken a turn for the weird.

“4067 steps. 2 trains. No cake” I message. “10009” comes the reply.

Basically, we’ve started becoming competitive on the numbers of steps taken during the day. Occasionally, I even win.

Since many of my strolls involve bits of the countryside where I might see a train (how I miss the days of travelling this way) and occasionally, there is a cake pickup involved, I bundle those into the message too.

Trouble is, it all sounds but Bridget Jones. Her diary lists the number of calories eaten, cigarettes smoked and units of alcohol consumed.  At least our messages are a bit healthier!

I suppose describing ourselves in numbers is all we have left at the moment. It’s not like talking about the weather is much fun, and we’re all bored of chatting pandemic!

 

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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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Booky loses to the pandemic

Phil: As I go for my evening allotted segment of allowable exercise, what we used to call a stroll, I pass by my local library. Which is shut.

Not just shut because I’m walking at dusk, but shut, as it has been for most of the year, because of Covid restrictions. Sadly, if you are stuck at home, you’ll need to find another way to access books.

That’s fine if you have an e-reader, the library service has developed clever ways to lend electronic books. They have even created a click and collect service from the larger locations. What’s gone is the pleasure of perusing bookshelves, waiting for a title to leap out at you. The random book you didn’t know existed, but will enjoy once you open the cover, is denied to you.

Second-hand bookshops suffer the same fate. How I miss the higgledy-piggledy nature of the shelves. You never know what’s going to be there – apart from many copies of whatever best-seller has dominated the charts recently – books decades-old rub shoulders with more recent releases. There’s the sense of adventure and the slightly odd smell. Bookshelves crammed into odd spaces to handle the stock. Peering around corners to find a topic and then tripping over it in a pile on the floor.

I know we can still buy new books, and fair play to those local shops offering some sort of service in these difficult times, but I like old books too.

And what do you do with those on the read pile? All the charity shops you’d drop them off to, and replenish your stocks from, are shut as well. There’s going to be a lot of books in landfill I’m afraid.

Let’s hope this is the last #worldbookday when getting your hands on a book is difficult. A time when we all need to be transported from reality into a different place for a few hours, and yet are denied this pleasure.

And let’s hope the Nolan and I can meet up for coffee and plotting. It will save us a fortune in postage swooping books by mail, and the chance of a proper chat is far better than the daily swapping of numbers of steps walked each day.

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A great title WILL sell your book. To me anyway…

Phil: It’s my old editor’s fault. David and I are both VW campervan fans, and the conversions in our vans are by the Folkestone firm of Dormobile.

So, when he posted the cover of Tess of the Dormobiles on Facebook, I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before I read it.

The story concerns Theresa Finbow – a self-published author, and her plan to write the difficult second novel. She borrows a holiday cottage in a quiet area of Norfolk, the plan being to emulate her lead character Tess.

In Norfolk, a trip to the local pub brings her into contact with Billy, a local farmworker who has a mysterious and ominous past. Worse, his brother is the reason that Tess is on holiday without her husband.

Can Tess get her novel finished, survive contact with Billy and resolve the issues in her personal life?

Will Stebbings is a self-published author with at least five books to his credit. Tess of the Dormobiles is printed by Createspace, a print-on-demand house, and sold via eBay, which is where I bought it.

You might expect me to review this with 2 stars and tell you I’d been ripped off. And you’d be wrong.

OK, the text could do with the attentions of a copy editor. There’s too much nerdy detail in places. Both Will and Tess know Norfolk and relate some locations in a very blokeish way with road numbers. I also query what two chapters of the fictional Tess book add to anything.

But, as I read it, one word kept popping up in my head – fresh. The writing is fresh and enjoyable. The plot rolls along well and a few surprises are chucked in along the way, especially the twist at the end. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but a lot better than many efforts by names famous for things other than writing.

I’m pleased the title, which is explained in the story, sold me this book. Reading it was fun. Owning it is a bit of a laugh. Passing it on to La Nolan will be a pleasure.

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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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I’m SOOOOOO Bored

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Candice: I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached boredom point with this whole home working/homeschooling/lockdown thing.

I think part of it is I looked at the calendar and thought – hey its the 8th Feb and then realised the earliest we are going to escape this is in four weeks time. FOUR WEEKS!

I’ve run out of ways to come up with interesting things to do at the weekend. The other week I did my tax return, then I did some touch-up painting where the walls were damaged in the hall. Getting up and putting a wash on, on Saturday morning, no longer floats my boat, because I can do it any day of the week.

As I sit here there are small snowflakes coming down on top of a light smattering of snow. More snow could be fun, but we’ve still done it all before. And hey, that will mean another trip over to the local park, the one we go to almost every day as its a five-minute walk from our house. BORED of it!

Phil and I came up with a creative way to chat the other week, to try and replicate our usual meets. I can walk to a coffee shop in 20 minutes so I did that, while talking to Phil on the phone, he did the same walking around his local area and found a new independent coffee shop that had opened. It was good to put the world to rights for an hour and a half, and clock up nearly 12000 steps. And Phil has found a new place to buy coffee and cake. But you can tell how people are looking for things to do, at 11.30am the queue for the drive-through coffee shop was out of their car park. And I bumped into two people I know while I was out which doesn’t normally happen.

I always find the winter months a bit harder, feeling contained by the cold and the dark nights. I haven’t been able to go out for a run as I’m an ‘above 5 degrees’ runner. And this snow means the bike ride I had planned will probably go out of the window.

I was doing my morning workout today; avoiding the sofabed, cat and small child while I was doing shuttle runs across the spare bedroom, and I thought – I need a new list. This is the time to finish off those other jobs around the house which will annoy me when I don’t have time. The dining room ceiling is desperate for paint. I also sat in front of a computer on Saturday and thought – let’s do some writing, and I drew a blank as I haven’t written for so long I don’t even know where to start. So I’m going to bully myself into starting on Saturday – when I have my three hours of child-free time and I am going to write. I also think it will make me feel better, having a purpose, and also enjoying myself.

 

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Stagecoach Drama saved my life

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Candice: You may have heard of Stagecoach. It’s a theatre school for children from four to 16, that teaches dance, drama and singing. My daughter joined up around 18 months ago. Initially, she was quite reluctant; it’s a big step to go into a large room full of children you don’t know while Mommy walks off. There were tears as she clung to me. We had been to a trial session which she said she loved so I wasn’t just dropping her off thinking “whey hey, child free time”. Well, I was, but I also knew she’d enjoy it.

My daughter has always been a drama queen. If I’d let her she’d have set up her own YouTube channel by now. She’s always asking me to video her, or pretending to make her own videos. I knew something like this would be perfect. I also know how much I loved drama growing up, and would have killed to do this.

So, along came a global pandemic, and no clubs, classes or going out. And we went on for the whole summer like that, with us parents coming up with the entertainment as we all fell over each other in the house.

Then someone realised that you can run some clubs remotely. Suddenly all these zoom lessons started popping up. And I’ve come to rely on the three-hour reprieve I get on a Saturday afternoon.

After a whole week living in each other’s pockets it the chance for the other half and I to get on with some stuff, without the whole ‘who’s turn is it to entertain the small child’ fight going on. Every parent out there will know this daily battle – you have things you want or need to do – it might be admin (I’ve spent this afternoon doing finance stuff!), it might be a workout, it might be tidying the loft. But all of these things are easier without a little voice telling you they are bored, need help etc. And you know you have three hours to do it. I end up shoehorning so much into that time I need a lie down after!

And in the lounge, one happy child is chatting with her friends while she learns to sing, emote and dance (her favourite part).

Like Phil’s involvement in Marian Keyes’s writing tutorial last week, we are all getting creative and actually finding some of these work. Sometimes it doesn’t, trying to run a disco where no-one can hear the music is a perfect example, but in a lot of cases, it can.

So, I’m going to savour every Saturday where I get my ‘me’ time. Hang on – I’ve got six minutes until she finishes, what else can I get done….

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