Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Beautiful words: what's your favourite?

Nik Perring is a friend I’ve never met. A friend of six, seven, eight years? I can’t be sure but, for as long as I’ve been blogging (since 2006), I’ve known Nik. I’ve spoken to him on the phone, we’ve sent each other mixed CDs (we have a similar fondness for quirky female singer-songwriters), I made him cry when he read my first novel HEAVEN CAN WAIT and I fell in love with his story ‘Shark Boy’ in his wonderful book of flash fiction NOT SO PERFECT, but we’ve never met in person. Maybe we never will but that’s okay – ours is a friendship we dip in and out of depending on how hectic life is, but it’s always there, in the background.

And talking of things you can dip in and out of (nice segue, Cally!), Nik has a wonderful new book out called ‘BEAUTIFUL WORDS’. It’s hard to describe to describe the book and do it justice. It’s not a short story book, it’s not a book of flash fiction and it’s definitely not a dictionary – what it is is a collection of words that Nik finds beautiful and, running through the book, is a narrative about a man called Alexander and his search for love.

BEAUTIFUL WORDS would make a wonderful gift for anyone who loves words – who loves discovering new ones, who loves reading them aloud to hear how they sound, who loves saying them over and over again until they make sense, or stop making sense at all. It’s quirky and different and resonant and thought-provoking. It’s like no little book you’ve ever read before and the illustrations are beautiful too. I’ve got a copy to give away but first, some questions for the Word Master himself…

So, Nik. Tell me how BEAUTIFUL WORDS came about? What gave you the idea?

Thanks for having me here. It's a lovely place! How did it start? A couple of years ago I started collecting words that I liked, that interested me. I bought a little orange notebook and when I found one I thought interesting or one I liked saying, or one that I liked what it stood for or represented I'd scribble it down in there. The initial plan was write a book that would be a celebration of words. Something I thought word lovers might like. The sort of thing that I thought I'd like to be given as a gift. But I thought, quite quickly, that a list of words that some chap you've probably never heard of wouldn't excite people. So I made it into a part story, part fact thing. With beautiful illustrations. I think it works.

There are two more books in the series – BEAUTIFUL SHAPES and BEAUTIFUL TREES – that continue Alexander’s story but also explore the shapes and trees you find beautiful. Did
you always plan on a series of books or did the idea for two more come to you
after you’d finished BEAUTIFUL WORDS?

That came about while I was writing it. It was a chance comment I'd made to my publisher. I said something like, 'It could be cool to do this as a series.' My publisher agreed it could be and that phone call was where we came up with the ideas for the next two.

Our relationship with words is such a personal thing. In your book I fell in love with the word
WHIFFLE because of the way it sounds when I say it but also because of the meaning but I wasn’t so keen on the word EFFLEURAGE because it made me think of sewage (sorry!) although it actually has a lovely meaning. When you wrote the book did you give any thought to how other people might respond to your choice of words or were you solely driven by your own favourites?

Ha! Sorry about the sewage. I think when we write anything that's going to be (hopefully) read by anyone we have to think of that audience to some degree. My angle was, and still is: these are some words that I like, and that mean something to the characters in the book but it's not, by any means, definitive. I think I say in the introduction that I hope people find some they like, but half the fun's
people disagreeing. If I get people thinking about the words that they like then I'm happy.

Which words nearly made the grade but were dropped in favour of your final choices?

There were loads! Flicking through my notebook... Doe, gnome, astral, book, chignon, crackle, doodlebug, elk, ermine, fiddle, fenberry, galloon, hexad, imp, junco, knobble, lasque, mist, nimble, obsequious, pirouette, quiver, scrim, tinsel. I'll stop there.

And here are a couple of early entries that didn't make the final draft:

Obsequious: If you are obsequious you are super-obedient, to the point of being servile. As nice as it is to be helpful, do remember that no-one likes a doormat. And if they do, you’re probably best steering clear of them.


Lover: Lover has been with us since the 12th century. More recently, I had a lover. I loved this lover. She was beautiful, and her lips were two halves of perfect. But this lover was allergic to me. I think I made her sick. I don’t see that lover any more.

Have you always been a fan of words? Do you know what your first word was? Any words you particular loved (and over-used) as a child?

Yeah, I think I have. Can't think of many specific examples, although I do remember loving 'diorama' when I was in high school.

Do you think our taste in favourite words change over time? Have yours?

That's a really interesting question, and one I'd not really thought about. I think the answer's most definitely a yes. Vocabulary does change. Just look at how many words get added to the OED (and taken out) every year. Twerk, anyone? And I think that we're probably getting more new words and
at a faster rate because of the internet and technology. It's a good thing, I think.

A bit of a morbid question here (sorry, it’s the crime writer in me!) but, imagine you’re on your
deathbed…what would you want the final word you breathe to be?

Ha! Oh I don't know. I'd like it to be something like 'goodbye', or 'thanks', but knowing me it's more likely to be 'Oops.'

Are there any words you actively dislike? Not because of their meanings (racism, homophobia etc) but because you don’t like the sound they make?

Dumbbell. Mulch.

You really enjoy writing short stories and flash fiction but you haven’t written a novel yet. Is
that because words hold more power in the short form, or some other reason?

Nah, I think words hold the same amount of power regardless of the story length. There's an argument that they stick out more in shorter stuff but every story/novel/whatever needs to use the right ones.

I’ve recently been thinking about my writerly bucket list. It includes: ‘See a poster of one of my books in a train station' ‘Win an award’, ‘Make the Richard and Judy Book Club selection’ and ‘Become a Sunday Times Bestseller’. What’s on your writerly bucket list?

And I'm sure you'll get all of them! I guess mine are pretty similar to yours. What would be really cool, I think, would be if someone animated one of my stories. That I'd like to see. But, really, as long as people keep on enjoying what I put out there then that's me happy.

Thanks Nik! I can’t wait to read the next two books in the series and wish you every success with BEAUTIFUL WORDS.

So for anyone who’s desperate to find out what WHIFFLE and
EFFLEURAGE mean do get yourself along to Nik’s publisher’s website and get
yourself a copy: http://www.roastbooks.org/beautiful-words.html

Or buy it on Amazon: Beautiful Words: Some Meanings and Some Fictions Too

Or you could enter my competition to win yourself a copy.

All you need to do is leave a comment letting us know which is your favourite word and why and Nik will pick his favourite. The competition closes on Friday 6th June 2014 at midnight and I’ll announce the winner within a week of the closing date. 


Nik Perring is a short story writer and author from the UK. His stories have been published
in many fine places both in the UK and abroad, in print and online. They’ve been used on High School distance learning courses in the US, printed on fliers, and recorded for radio. Nik is the author of the children’s book, I Met a Roman Last Night, What Did You Do? (EPS, 2006); the short story collection, Not So Perfect (Roastbooks 2010); and he’s the co-author of Freaks! (The Friday
Project/HarperCollins, 2012). His online home is
www.nikperring.com and he’s on Twitter as @nikperring Beautiful

Words is out now and available from all good book retailers.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Home for Christmas the film: aka watching a figment of your imagination become real

So it finally happened - on Sunday 4th May 2014 I watched the filming of Home for Christmas and fulfilled a lifetime ambition to see one of my novels brought to life.

Me with the clapper board.
I was nervous and excited in equal measures as the taxi drew up outside the Duke of York's cinema in Brighton at 9pm and my brother Dave, my sister Bec and I all clambered out. I was weighed down with bags - a handbag containing my fancy Nikon camera, a supermarket carrier containing two bottles of champagne for the directors and copies of The Accident for the cast and a second carrier rammed full of sweets and chocolate for the crew.

As I squeezed through the door to the cinema, I ran straight into Nathalie - one of the co-owners of JumpStart and the woman who first approached me via email back in 2012 to ask if her company could turn my book into a film. Nathalie is also eight months pregnant (and did a bloody good job of staying awake until 3am. Something the rest of us really struggled with!).

Me, Dave and Bec in the Duke of York's cafe before filming started
We hugged hello and then she took us up to the cafe where they were setting up to film the first scene (where Beth comes into work to hand in her notice to Mrs Blackstock and runs into Creepy Carl).

As a Christmas tree was assembled in the corner of the room, tables were cleared and the camera and sound crew set up I was introduced to Jamie the director, Richey the soundman (who will also be creating the score for the film), Matt Beveridge who plays Aiden, April Pearson who plays Beth, Melissa the make-up artist, Georgia the production assistant, Cliff the camera man, Graeme Dalling who plays Creepy Carl, Shirley who plays Mrs Blackstock and so many other people I've forgotten their names (sorry guys!).

Excited to take some pics of everyone in action I reached into my handbag for my Nikon, only to discover I'd left the SD card in my laptop at home. Doh! Never mind, camera phones at the ready instead...

As everyone frantically rushed around getting ready we squirreled ourselves away at the tables in the corner of the room (where we'd later 'act' as customers in a scene) and were joined by some friends - the lovely Georgie D (if anyone needs a personal trainer in Brighton she's your woman!) and author and 5:2 guru Kate Harrison and her partner Rich.

From left to right: Rich, Kate, Bec, George, Me, Dave

I wasn't expecting what happened next - I was asked if I'd mind being interviewed as part of the Behind the Scenes section of the DVD! One of the production assistants was swiftly tasked with scribbling down some questions for me, a camera was set up in front of me, Richey dangled his thing over my head (microphone, you perves!) and BOOM! we were off.

I wasn't told the questions in advance so stumbled over the first one

'What's Home for Christmas about?'

I've spent so much time over the last few months telling people what The Accident is about that I'd totally forgotten the elevator pitch for my second rom com. I had a second go and managed to get through the rest of the questions without stumbling although I was horribly aware that the room was totally silent and everyone was watching. Rather them than me in front of the camera!

Me being interviewed for the Behind the Scenes documentary
Then it was time for the first scene - the confrontation between Beth and Carl as she prepares to leave the Picturebox forever and fly to Australia to be with her mum. April and Graeme were fantastic - I loved the way April portrayed Beth's new found confidence and Graeme, with his soft lilting Scottish accent gave Carl a real malevolence.

It was so surreal hearing actors speak the lines I'd written and see a scene I'd played out in my head come to life in front of me - it was still my book but it wasn't, it had taken on a life of it's own and become something new, shaped by other people's interpretations and visions.

I sneaked a peek at a page of Graeme's script (complete with his notes)
Writing a book has often been compared to having a baby - you nurture it for months and when it's published it's 'born'. If that's the case then watching your book become a film is like watching that baby grow up and leave home. When they come back for a visit they're still your baby but they've changed too, they've had adventures and experiences you haven't been part of. I have no idea if that analogy makes sense but it's the best I can come up with!

Watching filming of the first scene. That's April (Beth) by the door and you can just make out Graeme (Carl) with his arms crossed perching on the table behind the camera.

After filming that scene from several angles (including with us in the background as customers) it was time for one of the really touching scenes in the film - where Beth and Mrs Blackstock (the owner of the Picturebox) say goodbye. Shirley was perfectly cast as Mrs Blackstock. She's got a lovely open, warm face and demeanor with an edge of steel underneath.

Beth and Mrs Blackstock hugging goodbye.
By the time filming upstairs was finished it was 12am and time to head downstairs to the ticket office for some more scenes - including the first time Beth and Aiden meet, the moment Mrs Blackstock tells Beth she's selling the Picturebox and the scene where Carl tells Beth about Aiden's 'engagement party'.

April (Beth) and Matt (Aiden) practice their lines whilst make up artist Melissa checks her phone.
We weren't needed as extras immediately so we amused ourselves as best we could for a couple of hours...

We drank tea (a lot)

We ate Malted Milk biscuits (and Haribos and jelly babies)
Dave did tricep dips on the bar!

We watched filming and Tweeted

And Dave refreshed his make up!

Bec and George also went for a wander upstairs in search of the fabled Duke of York's ghost and both swore they could sense something weird in the balcony (George said she saw some cushions move!).
April went off to get changed between scenes and, when she returned, Georgia suggested we have our photo taken together...

Me and Beth (April Pearson) a figment of my imagination come to life!
Lots of people wanted to get photos of us together and it was like being papped! (thanks to Kate Harrison for capturing the moment!)

Being 'papped' with April!
At this point it was about 1.30am and Kate and Rich were exhausted and well and truly jetlagged after returning from Australia just days earlier and decided to call it a night.

Kate and Rich - smiling through the tiredness!

Then it was time for April to be 'turned orange' by Melissa for the aftermath of the fake tan disaster scene. She didn't thank me for writing that!

Fake tan disaster in progress
And then, at 2.30am (and with the four of us yawning for England and wondering how on earth the actors were able to speak never mind remember their lines) it was time for the final scene and our moment of glory as extras - a stroll across the foyer and up the stairs of the cinema. Jamie told us to take our time but Dave told me later I shot across the foyer like a bullet from a gun. I wouldn't be at all surprised if our entrance ends up on the cutting room floor!

The final scene of the night: Creepy Carl tells a very orange Beth that he's been invited to Aiden's 'engagement party'.

At 2.47am Jamie shouted 'That's a wrap!' or maybe 'We're done' or 'You can sleep now' - I can't quite remember, either way that was filming finished for another day. I hugged as many people as I could and said thank you, thank you, thank you, then strolled out into the cold Brighton air and headed for bed.

It was one of the most extraordinary, exciting and enchanting days of my life and one that I won't forget for a very, very long time. Roll on December when the film will be premiered at the Duke of York's and I get to see the whole thing. And thank you again JumpStart Productions, for helping make one of my dreams come true.

You can see more photos and follow the progress of the film here: http://www.facebook.com/homeforchristmasfilm