Tag Archives: writing

To the moon! (and back again)

Phil: I was reminded that a review of Andrew Smith’s book Moon Dust was overdue while sitting in a nearly empty cinema (10am showings are great if you want it quiet) waiting First Man* to begin. The thought almost persuaded me not to open my cinema treat packet of Maltesers.

The book charts Smith’s efforts to track down and talk to every man who has walked on the moon and see how the experience affected them.

We’re only talking about 9 people, 3 have already passed on, but the quest takes the author all over the world. I was fascinated by this – how did he fund his travels? I get the feeling that it was a side project to other work, but still…

Walking on another planet is, let’s face it, the most exciting and impressive thing anyone can ever do. There are many years of build-up, some terror as you sit on top of a bomb that will fire you into space and a huge job list from NASA once you arrive. All the time knowing that every single component in your equipment has been chosen because the person building it tendered the lowest price. You rely on a machine so complex that even if the  agency achieves it’s 99.9% success rate, several hundred parts will fail. There’s no intergalactic RAC to come and rescue you either!

Once you’ve splashed down, been hauled out of the sea and returned home, what do you do next?

The astronauts’ answers to this are fascinating. Some stay in the system fighting to get man back out into space and back to the moon or even Mars.

Others drop out and start painting as a way to try to make sense of the experience they have been through. Alan Bean cleverly includes dust from his space suit badge in his paints so everyone buying a picture owns a little bit of the moon. This doesn’t appear to be a cynical marketing ploy, more a way to convey the experience.

Along the way, there are insights into the world of the Apollo programme. Astronauts weren’t that well paid. They didn’t receive media training, even though they would become some of the most famous people on the planet. Wives were expected to be part of the show, but not get in the way. Space bases aren’t situated in bustling towns and Cape Canaveral was basically a swamp when they all first moved there.

This is a portrait of a very different world from the one today. It’s all history and not even recent history. Apollo was a bubble of optimism where the US, while bogged down in the Vietnam war, offered a chunk of the future. Kids who had grown up on science fiction thought they were seeing the first days of something great, little realising that a couple of missions in, the public would be so bored of the whole thing that the TV networks couldn’t be bothered to show landing live.

An enjoyable read, it probably helps if you are a little bit geeky and love space things as the author experiences the wide-eyed wonder of meeting his heroes. Some turn out to have feet of clay, but most are still clad in moondust.

*Review: Armstong is taciturn.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Phil, Writing

It’s like the Da Vinci code – but funny!

Phil: A few years ago, Jonas Jonasson scored a hit with his book The hundred year old man who fell out of a window and disappeared. Now the lead character, Alan Karlsson is back.

In the first book, much of the action was played in flashback with stories telling how Karlsson had travelled the world, largely by accident, meeting pretty much every famous person over his lifetime. He stumbled into situations, often altering the world without really meaning to.

This might remind you of the film Forest Gump, Forest always being in shot during pivotal moments in history.

It all reminded me more of the Da Vinci code. Turn the page and the plot has summoned up yet another famous face to move things along. Over 100 years, Alan had certainly got around a bit and the idea of slamming all these notable names into one story was fun.

However, the new book takes place over a much shorter time, but with no fewer “characters”.

We get to meet Donald Trump, Lim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. To make matters more convincing, real-life history has been employed with Karlsson involved in uranium smuggling while the big players, especially Putin, control the world like a chess game.

Jonasson uses his characters and the story to satirise the world and it sort of works. At the end, everything becomes a little heavy-handed and a bit miserable, but not unrealistically so.  Cynics might suggest this “never planned” second book has appeared because the publishers put their author in an arm lock until he promised to write it, but I’m inclined to believe the introduction where he says there was a lot to say. A bit anyway. Maybe the appearance of a Mercedes catalogue helped too.

The story is full of cliches, unlikely conincidence, and very minor characters who have a very bad time of it. This might be realistic, but people being collateral damage always makes me feel uncomfortable. I know they aren’t real, but I’m stupid this way.

Despite the reservations, it’s a fun read, especially if you pay any attention to the news and can spot the events being satirised.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Phil, Writing

Going where no man has gone before

You were recently selected as a potential candidate for P.O.W.E.R. (Professional Organization of Women of Excellence Recognized).
Our organization provides a powerful network of women who will mentor, inspire and empower each other to be the best they can be. Women understand the need to connect with other like-minded professionals and the importance of added exposure.

Phil: I’ve been receiving this e-mail twice a week for at least a month. I’m not sure what their vetting procedure is, but I’m thinking that it falls at the first hurdle. Unless you consider the first hurdle to be, “Has an e-mail address” rather than gender.

While I’m happy to mentor, inspire and empower people, although “each other” sounds a bit like a cult, or an orgy, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be allowed in the door. A quick look at the website suggests that door would be in America anyway. The woman fronting the video on the home page looks a bit scary too.

While they have been busy spamming me, I’ve actually had women’s groups on my mind. At our last planning session, we decided it would be a good idea to send Kate, or lead character, to a local women’s networking group. It brings her into contact with people who can be both useful and entertainingly anoying. She has an ulterior motive, but the result isn’t quite the one she hoped for – but ultimately IS good for her. I’ll say no more or SPOILERS!

It’s a good example of how Team NolanParker works. After chatting with Candice, who has been to groups like this, I wrote the first few pages of story. They were OK, but I wasn’t really feeling it.

My words went over to the Noaln and a couple of days later came back much expanded. And improved.

I’d laid the foundations, which freed her to add all the good bits. Maybe the words needed a woman’s touch, or maybe I provided enough inspiration to get her creative juices flowing. Whatever, it worked.

I have been the only man working in an office-full of women, but I am not (despite what the P.O.W.E.R. network thinks) a woman and can’t always get into the right mind. That’s why writing as a pair works so well, I don’t know how anyone does it on their own.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Flogging books

Phil: You’d think with 15 best-selling novels under your belt, when your next book appears on the shelves, you’d be able to sit back and take a bit of a break. After all, success breeds success, doesn’t it? 3 million readers will be waiting for something new and will run out to snap up a copy.

It seems not, or at least if you follow Adelle Parks Twitter or Instagram accounts it doesn’t.

The arrival of I Invited Her In has seen a rush of promotional activity. There are appearances at shops up and down the country for a start, with an awful lot of book signing. Several radio interviews in a day last week, a blog tour, an interview for Hello and even a short story in a Sunday supplement magazine. In addition, there are poster campaigns at railway stations.

It all goes to show just how much marketing work is required to flog books. Considering this is from a well-known author with an established track record it makes me wonder if this is a chicken and egg situation. Finding a budget to promote a successful author is easy as the bean counters are confident of a return. This is a crowded market and resources need to be targeted carefully.

It makes you realise just how much extra effort it takes to launch new authors. If no-one has heard of you, how do you change that? It’s not like radio stations are queuing up to chat with new writers, selling a chat with someone the audience have heard of is far less likely to lead to anyone switching off. Social media matters and for that, you have to rely on having a marketable writer who can promote themselves. Mind you, since the main requirements are an imagination, it’s probably an area where an author has the advantage!

And if from this you think I’m a bit jealous – too right. Running around the country plugging our books? Team NolanParker would be well up for that. But then having legions of fans telling you how wonderful your latest story is, is all part of the writing dream. We’re not the sort of shrinking violets who just want to hand down our work from an ivory tower!

Still, having a goal makes us want to work harder. Now, I better go and write some more for book 3…

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Publishing, Writing

Brave moves

Phil: According to the BBC, last week 10 years since the great financial crash. Banks were hastily thrown vast amounts of money, a few bankers lost their jobs and everyone prepared for financial Armageddon.

A couple of months earlier, I had thrown in my job with plans to travel and write and generally eat through a big chunk of my savings, treating myself to the gap year I’d missed out on because I didn’t go to university. Not that I’d have been brave enough to take that year of course, but I’d got old enough to think I might be ready for it 25 years later.

All this came back to me as I read  Take a Look at Me Now by Miranda Dickinson.

The story concerns Nell who loses her job as a planning officer and instead of plunging into the local jobs market, decides to take off to visit her cousin in San Francisco for a couple of months with her redundancy money.  She has a dream of running an American style diner in the UK and as luck would have it, ends up meeting a diner owner in the US who shows her the ropes.

Along the way, there is a dalliance with a hunky, grey-eyed artist and generally, a good time is had by all. So good in fact, that you have to get 2/3rds of the way through the book before there is any jeopardy. Redundancy aside, her life goes swimmingly the moment her feet hit US soil with a succession of happy coincidences. As a travel promotion for the city, it’s great, and you can tell the author fell in love with the place.

As with any chick-lit, all ends happily, especially for the publishers who surely have a potential sequel being written since the story couldn’t have ended in a better place for this.

To be honest, it’s light, pleasant reading. Undemanding and perfect for a sun lounger.

My biggest complaint is the cover, which has all the hallmarks of a designer keen to go to the pub. The story is set where? Well, put the Golden Gate bridge on. It’s about a youngish woman? Where’s that CD full of unconvincing clipart? Job done – let’s go.

Having said this, my own story also enjoyed a few happy coincidences. Jumping into the world of temporary jobs, I ended up working with Candice and when the place closed down, we found ourselves with lots of time and no work so started writing a book. Which became a series. And a lasting friendship.

Now if only we could get someone to sign up to turn them into a major feature film, this really would read like a book…

2 Comments

Filed under Phil, Writing

Reality too close to home

Police at scene in Enfield

Candice:  I like reading ‘police procedurals’ – I love the mystery and trying to work out who done it, often with some downtrodden main character leading the charge.  The gore, the horror, what happens next, the twists; they are all part of a good story.

However, the other week my local area became part of its own police drama which made me think about things a bit differently.

Monday morning I’m getting text messages from friends, ‘hope you are ok’.  Ok, ok in relation to what?  We are out with the in-laws in a park an hour away from home.

I reply – what do you mean?  They respond to say that there has been a double murder not far from our house!  Shocked to say the least. I log on to the web and discover that the night before, while we’d been tucked up in bed, a young man had decided to stab his ex-girlfriend and her mother.  It comes out later that he has a history of violence and she’d been calling the police earlier in the evening because of problems but one thing led to another and he decided to step over the line and viciously murder these people.

Reading this story in a book it would have been a great opener; screams heard in the street, two people lying dead outside their house and a van seen driving off at speed.  But this isn’t a book, its real.

For the next week, if I drove around the area I’d find my route blocked by TV crew vans and police tape. It was most surreal, like being in a show.  There were times when it felt like you do on the motorway when there is a crash,  you can’t help but look.  But I also thought of the people involved and the horrible impact on their lives in having someone taken away.  It made me hug my daughter a bit tighter at bedtime.

The experience won’t stop me liking my reading material but it will make me think about how fiction can become fact and how different that is for those involved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

New glasses make me feel old…

Phil: It’s that time again – the time when I have to choose some new glasses.

Sadly, the opticians aren’t able to sell me the same design of frames as I’ve enjoyed for the last two pairs so my “strong personal brand” needs to change slightly (Yes – strong personal brand, not me being too much of a wuss to go for something different) but this isn’t the biggest shock.

I’ve noticed for a few months that close-up work has been a bit of a challenge and have even resorted to taking my specs off for some of it. It seems that great age has caught up with me and I’m suffering from presbyopia, or the loss of elasticity in the lens. Basically, I need reading glasses.

This is the beginning of a slow decline obviously. Next time, those glasses will be hanging on a chain around my neck and the ones I normally wear will become the ones I peer over the top of when talking to people. After this, it’s a slippery slope to shopping in M&S and wearing cardigans…

Better get back to the writing before all my critical faculties give up on me!

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil