Monthly Archives: February 2015

Word rant

The English language is one of the richest. Why then are we assailed with clichés? I am risking accusations of pedantry here but I get very irritated by clichés. Here’s my collection of words and phrases that I hate, from twitter and other social media, radio, and in general use. I spend so much time trying get the right words that it annoys me that people are so casual.

Does it have to be that xxs are always y, as in these examples?

  • Streets always mean?
  • Hearts always beating?
  • Victims always innocent?
  • Learning always curved?
  • The line always the bottom one?
  • Or being drawn under?
  • Pauses always pregnant?
  • Standards bog?
  • Meals square?
  • Shares fair?
  • Shifts always paradigmic?
  • Sighs always breathed?
  • Dashes always cut?
Learning Curve by Alanf777 via Wiki Commons

Learning Curve by Alanf777 via Wiki Commons

Why do writers use these expressions?

  • Eclectic – when they mean varied
  • Iconic – meaning special (as in the iconic Grand Canyon – doh?)
  • Back in the day – meaning before
  • Comfort zones – out of which one should be tempted or thrust
  • Up, as in heads up, up-skill, up-scale, up-cycle, run up the flagpole,
  • At all, as in ‘have you got a credit card at all?’ which implies you might have a small bit of one at least.
  • Ahead of – meaning in the future
  • Back, in ‘reply back’ (back is redundant, you can’t reply any other way)
  • Awesome – unless they are an American teenager, in which case they can just use it and alternate it with ‘like’.

156 stop signOkay I’m definitely a pedant. So to counteract the amount of pedantry in this post here’s a link to Selkie Moon’s blog in which she looks at the value of clichés in writing a first draft. Her post goes  to consider the advantages of turning them around in revision to dig deeper.

And here’s some goobledegoop that baffles me:

We are excited to announce the immediate availability of a new feature: Amazon Machine Image (AMI) Copy. AMI Copy enables you to copy your AMIs across AWS regions, thus making it easier for you to leverage multiple AWS regions and accelerate your geographical expansion and help increase application performance and availability.

And some spam stuff, which makes me wonder which language it’s translated from, or whether a word bank was randomly rifled.

I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out proper here. The cartoon is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish. nevertheless, you command get bought an edginess over that you want be handing over the following. unwell no doubt come more formerly again since precisely the similar just about very continuously inside of case you defend this hike.

And here’s some clarity that makes me laugh.

156 Necess tools

 

Do you have some favourite unfavourites?

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The Dig by Cynan Jones

Here’s a jewel that appears in the short novel, The Dig. It is an excellent book, much recommended in those lists of good reads of the year in 2014. But this is not a review of the novel. I only want to draw attention to one sharply observed character, the mother of the farmer. It is a miniature addition to the older women in fiction series.

155 The DigDaniel’s mother, according to Cynan Jones, has a ‘staid farmhouse traditionalism’, found everywhere in the countryside. He refers to such women as ‘charged for generations with keeping their men working, by feeding them and repairing them, and there is no room for sentimentalism in that’.

But this sureness of purpose can only come from having a defined role and from not questioning it. It was certain to him that his mother had never questioned the role, but with that same conviction – age being a role in itself – she had adopted oldness when she had assumed she should, rather than when her body told her to.

She had seemed to prematurely age, to adopt some strange outwardly witnessed notion of old people in the way teenagers put on some adulthood. There was no adjustment to the fact that eighty was not a rare age any more, and that sixty was what forty used to be. She started to order elasticated trousers and strange shoes that made her look incongruously aged like teenagers look in grown-up clothes, and seemed to choose a stock phrasebook of senior comments which she took to saying with a wistful acceptance; again, like a teenager trying to sound grown up.

He didn’t know exactly what to do about this, but it was wearing. And then suddenly she was old, and the incongruity was not there. (48-9)

I know several people who enact being old. This woman doesn’t so much age as adopt oldness, before coming to be old.

But don’t read The Dig for Daniel’s mother alone. This novel justifies its recommendations. It is a brutal, harsh story of two men in the Welsh countryside. It reminds me of the differences between Welsh and English culture. The title refers to illegal hunting for badgers.

European Badger by Kallerna via wikicommons

European Badger by Kallerna via wikicommons

The writer has a great feel for place, and for the deep history of the Welsh rural landscape. Rural life is evoked most effectively through the skill and knowledge of their crafts that the men have developed, through the taciturn nature of much communication, and the sounds of the countryside.

For a moment he listened to the rattle of the corrugated iron as one of the cows scratched inside the barn, and to a tractor clanging as it changed loaders on the next farm (148).

155 pbk The Dig

The Dig by Cynan Jones (2014), published by Granta (156 pp)

 

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The Craft of Blogging #8 Blogging for Writers by Robin Houghton

If you are a writer who blogs you might want to consider looking at this book. Robin Houghton published Blogging for Creatives in 2012. I referred to it a few times in earlier posts about blogging. Now we have a version specially for writers: Blogging for Writers: how authors and writers build successful blogs.

154 BFW

What’s it about?

It covers some of the same ground as the earlier edition, including retaining some of the important considerations about blogging. For example, Robin Houghton asks writers why they might want to blog. What’s in it for the writer? She notes that before the internet most writers found it hard to get any kind of readership. They had to get through the almost impermeable barriers created by the complications and demands of publishers. Today it is different, Robin Houghton observes.

On your blog, you are the publisher – you are in total control of what you put on it and how you present it. You could use your blog to try out new ideas for writing projects, asking for comments, or calling for contributors. Or perhaps you will post sample chapters, or work-in-progress, or write about the writing process, or about what you are reading and what is influencing your writing. Blogging gives you the potential to reach out to a worldwide audience. (8)

She may exaggerate the group function of a blog when she suggests that yours could become a kind of online writers’ group, ‘a place where you can draw support and inspiration throughout the ups and downs of what can essentially be quite a lonely occupation’. It’s an ideal, and I expect there are places where this happens. But it is not guaranteed.

What are the qualities of this book?

Blogging for Writers shares many of the qualities of its predecessor. It is updated and is more specifically aimed at writers and their blogging needs.

145 old handsIt is very good on the step-by-step processes of setting up a blog, especially for people who don’t warm to technical stuff. It’s not that technical in Robin Houghton’s account, and it’s well illustrated so you can see what should be happening and what other writers have done on their blogs. It is as attractive as many handicraft books, good colour photos and no assumption that you know what is meant by a widget or a plug-in.

It’s also good on the craft of blogging – what makes a brilliant post (headline, topic, photo, length, readability, etc); types of post (lists, interviews, reviews, stories, polemics, etc). And it is realistic about how to manage the practicalities of planning and maintaining a blog. On frequency and length of posts, for example, she has some useful things to say, but is not prescriptive. Instead she suggests the advantages and disadvantages of different pratices.

She’s helpful about how to get your blog noticed, and to keep things going. One of the traps for bloggers is addiction to statistics. She suggests thinking of them ‘as indicators rather than absolute measures’, helpful in setting goals – if you like that sort of thing. And she suggests the tools that can help.

I make no money out of my blog, but I expect that the advice on this is good too.

Throughout the book there are screen grabs of lots of writers’ blogs, and also short quotations about some aspect of their blog.

Do you need copies of both Blogging for Writers and Blogging for Creatives?

154 BFCWriters starting from here would not need the earlier volume. Blogging for Writers is both more up-to-date and more targeted. The examples are especially helpful. I responded to the sidebar that featured Molly Wizenberg and her food and writing blog orangette.

What my blog does is force me to show up. That’s huge. A lot of writers and creative people have said things along the lines of “showing up is 90% of the work,” and that’s certainly true for me. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write. Blogs help us show up, and that’s priceless.

I want my blog to keep me excited about writing. I want it to be a place that forces me to keep writing and practicing, and to be a cattle-prod to me to keep cooking and working. I want my site to reflect what I’m excited about. (161)

I understand this as turning up and writing interesting posts has contributed to my learning as a writer and as a blogger.

Some previous posts in the Craft of Blogging series

#3 My checklist for blogposts

#5 How I write my blog slowly

#7 Finding readers

Blogging for Writers: How authors and writers build successful blogs, by Robin Houghton (2014) published by ilex press. 176 pp

Do you have any ‘how to blog’ books you recommend?

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On-line writing course #3 Finished?

I signed up for a six-week on-line writing course to learn how to edit the first draft of my novel. Longstanding readers of this blog will be aware that my draft has been in a drawer for a long time. I have been busy in the meantime but I was aware I didn’t know how to proceed following the achievement of the first draft.

145 writing keyboardThe course was called Self-Editing Your Novel run by The Writers’ Workshop. It required a payment, joining a website community and a commitment for six weeks. I tried and largely succeeded in giving an hour a day, six days a week for the six weeks. During that time I composed my own questions on each of the six themes, watched the weekly introductory videos, read the tutor notes, composed and posted my homework, read other people’s homework, commented on them, read comments on mine, and paying particular attention to the tutors’ comments on my homework.

The tutors were Emma Darwin and Debi Alper. They demonstrated sensitivity, encouragement, critical commentary, suggestions, occasional ticking off, generosity, as well as deep knowledge and understanding of the processes of novel writing and editing. I am full of admiration for their skills in teaching these.

My aims have been achieved

These were my aims for the course (as reported on a previous post):

  • √ To acquire the skills I need to move my novel on to the next stage.
  • √ To practise these self-editing skills.
  • √ To begin to identify the tasks and approaches I need to attend to to move my novel on.
  • √ To identify specific tasks I need to undertake related to these aspects: plot, character, voice, point of view and prose.
  • √ To connect with other writers through the Cloud who are involved in the same processes.
  • √ To blog about the experiences at least once more.

153 tick153 tick153 tick

Learning

I have learned a lot, not all of it comfortable, about myself as a writer-learner (see my second post on progress). The on-line context became irrelevant once I found my way around.

I have learned a great deal about the process of editing, in each of the 5 categories:

  1. plot,
  2. character,
  3. voice, point of view,
  4. psychic distance and
  5. prose

I have ways of thinking about each of these now, and some activities that will help me see if large-scale revisions are required. I have a notebook full of things to attend to. We were advised not to try to revise our WIP during the course, so these had to be noted down for later. And here we are at ‘later’.

I learned about the power of the group, how encouragement, comments, reactions, questions from others can nudge, push and force writer-learners to see their WIP in new ways.

And I learned about the stimulating, inventive and creative ideas of my fellow novelists.

And while I’ve been learning…

… I have been getting on with blogging, meeting my fellow authors on our non-fiction book for a three day write-in, reading 9 novels, publishing some short fiction (see previous post on this), getting ready for two events to promote Retiring with Attitude, and attending a workshop where I learned how to make a red felt hat. This one!

153 Red hat

What next?

I have a plan. Better than any of Baldrick’s plans.

It includes completing the revision of my novel by the end of August when I am due to go on a trip abroad. I will revise it to the level where I feel a professional critique would be the best next step. So not finished then.

Many thanks

To Emma Darwin, Debi Alper, The Writers’ Workshop website and my fellow participants.

 

Previous posts about this course.

  1. An On-line Writing Course #1 Purposes
  2. On-line Writing Course #2 in-progress

 

What has been your best learning from writing courses? Can you say what helped make it a good learning experience? Would you recommend the course to others?

 

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A gentle blast on my own trumpet

I’m just boasting a little. After writing for more than half a century I have at last got a story published. A very short story. Just 343 words. But published all the same. Here’s the link to A Line of Destroyers 1917

In September 2014 I attended a Workshop at RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter), run by Sally Flint, an editor of Riptide Magazine.

152 RAMMWe explored the collections to be inspired by something on display in the museum. I found this lithograph in a special exhibition. It was originally published in 1917 in Country Life Magazine.

A Line of Destroyers, 1917 by Muirhead Bone (1876 – 1953) Lithograph, published by Country Life Ltd, 1917

A Line of Destroyers, 1917 by Muirhead Bone (1876 – 1953)
Lithograph, published by Country Life Ltd, 1917

I loved the picture for the innocence and calm radiance of its appearance and for the contrast with the menace of the title. The story emerged as I studied it in the gallery, probably influenced by all the pictures and talk of the Great War. Back in the workshop I roughed out a draft and read it aloud and later I edited and polished it.

This is an activity I love. I already described it in the post called Write one picture. But not all exercises turn into publishable ideas.

152 RAMM stairs

Kate Osborne, the learning and skills officer at RAMM had already set up a connection with the website Poor Yorick, so I sent on my short fiction as a possible submission for their spotlight feature on RAMM.

I spend happy hours in museums and can be heard saying that some of my best friends are museums and art galleries. It is with great pleasure then to be part of linking creative writing with my local museum. (I am a friend).

 

Nice comments are welcome.

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Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Why is this book so popular? And what has it to say about older women? The judges of the Costa First Novel Award in 2014 said of Elizabeth is Missing

This outstanding debut novel grabbed us from the very first page – once you start reading you won’t be able to stop. Not only is it gripping, but it shows incredible flair and unusual skill. A very special book.

151 E missiing cover 3It’s doing really well in the best seller charts: #9 in the Guardian Bookshop list and #6 in the London Review of Books list. 17,443 copies sold to date and #3 in overall paperback fiction chart.

It’s included in the list for the Richard and Judy WH Smith Book Club and the Radio 2 Book Club.

Congratulations to Emma Healey.

(This is the 12th in the series of Older Women in Fiction reviews that I post every two months. For the full list see here.)

The Older Woman

Maud is old and becoming very forgetful, suffering from dementia. She is the narrator, which is an ambitious aspect of the novel: the ultimate unreliable narrator? At the start of the novel she lives on her own, cared for by her daughter Helen and a professional carer, Carla.

She [Carla] picks up the carers’ folder, nodding at me, keeping eye contact until I nod back. I feel like I’m at school. There was something in my head a moment ago, a story, but I’ve lost the thread of it now. Once upon a time, is that how it started? Once upon a time, in a deep, dark forest, there lived an old, old woman named Maud. I can’t think what the next bit should be. Something about waiting for her daughter to come and visit, perhaps. It’s a shame I don’t live in a nice little cottage in a dark forest, I could just fancy that. And my granddaughter might bring me food in a basket. (3-4)

The forgetfulness is evident from the first chapter when she buys yet more tinned peaches to cover her memory lapse in the local shop. Her condition worsens as the novel progresses. She moves to live with Helen. A strategy to cope with her growing confusing used by Maud is to write herself notes. However, these accumulate and she is unable to make much sense of them.

The thing is to be systematic, try to write everything down. Elizabeth is missing and I must do something to find out what’s happened. but I’m so muddled. I can’t be sure about when I last saw her or what I’ve discovered. I’ve phoned and there’s no answer. I haven’t seen her. I think. She hasn’t been here and I haven’t been there. What next? I suppose I should go to the house. Search for clues. And whatever I find I will write it down. I must put pens in my handbag now. The thing is to be systematic. I’ve written that down too. (22)

The dominant thought in Maud’s head is her friend Elizabeth. She repeatedly tells her daughter, ‘Elizabeth is missing’.

We also come to see Maud as a young girl, through her memories (more reliable) and of the tragedy in her teenage years when her sister Sukey disappeared. This second disappearance is Maud’s concern and shapes the novel’s narrative.

Maud is an interesting character, therefore: a forgetful old woman but also a lively teenager.

The Story

The title suggests that the mystery to be solved is the disappearance of Maud’s friend Elizabeth. But it becomes apparent that she is still bothered by the unanswered question of what happened to her sister. Was she murdered by Frank, her spiv husband? Or did she disappear to escape some problem? And why has half of her compact case turned up in Elizabeth’s garden after all these years?

151 E missing cover 1Maud can remember all the clues she uncovered when she searched for her missing sister. Eventually both mysteries are more or less resolved, but not before Maud has got into trouble for her inappropriate behaviour, especially towards Elizabeth’s son. It is revealed that she has been told several times that her friend Elizabeth had a stroke and is in hospital, and that she has even been to visit her.

The early part of the novel is concerned to establish Maud’s limitations. I found that it took some time to move further into the story and for the twin problems of the two missing women to emerge. In some ways this reconstructs Maud’s understanding of events, fragmentary, disconnected, illogical, always just out of sight. The first person narrative carries this well.

What we find

We get a good look at the importance of memory in managing everyday life, in learning, how change affects people, and the experience of dementia. It also reveals the generosity of Helen, and of her daughter Kate who treats Maud with respect. Some of the muddles are amusing, and reveal that dealing with Maud can be frustrating while other responses are abusive and abrupt.

Brain picture via Wikimedia. This illustration is from "The Home and School Reference Work, Volume I" by The Home and School Education Society, H. M. Dixon, President and Managing Editor. The book was published in 1917 by The Home and School Education Society. This illustration of the parts of the Brain can be found on page 368. The parts are A. Cerebrum; B. Corpus Callosum; C: Medulla Oblongata; D. Arbor-Vitae; E: Cerebellum, F: Pons Varolii

Brain picture via Wikimedia. This illustration is from “The Home and School Reference Work, Volume I” by The Home and School Education Society, H. M. Dixon, President and Managing Editor. The book was published in 1917 by The Home and School Education Society.
This illustration of the parts of the Brain can be found on page 368. The parts are A. Cerebrum; B. Corpus Callosum; C: Medulla Oblongata; D. Arbor-Vitae; E: Cerebellum, F: Pons Varolii

Despite losing her memory and becoming increasingly confused, Maud is not a figure of pity. Rather we admire her determination to get to the bottom of both mysteries and to deal with her difficulties with determination and good spirit. But it is in the way she behaves that she implicitly claims the respect that is due, and the dignity of her age.

The purpose of fiction is to take us into new worlds and Emma Healey has done this. We hope for more books from Emma Healey.

More (some links)

Annethology reviewed a number of novels related to dementia in one post: Literary Dementia.

Emma Healey on the Alzheimer’s Research UK blog

Simon Savidge on Shiny New Books.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (2014) published by Penguin Books. 275pp

Have you read this book? What was your view?

 

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The distracted writer

Members of my writing group claim that it is really really easy to get distracted from writing. Writers on twitter agree, judging by the number of motivational tweets that drift through my timeline. It seems that writers prioritize plenty of other things above the crafting of words. And they need inspiration to get back to the pen or keyboard. And they need moral precepts and finger-wagging little post-it notes of exhortation. Or do they?

 

Spider’s web document by Iago One via Wikimedia

Spider’s web document by Iago One via Wikimedia

Most of the members of our writing group are women, so domestic duties featured high on the list of reasons why they hadn’t achieved what they wanted to do since our last session. [Just in case you think I am, I’m not saying men don’t have domestic duties.] We talked about other reasons as well. Here’s a round-up.

  1. Household responsibilities

Caring for other people, children, partners and older folk, the constant demands, the pressures of tasks to be done repeatedly by frequent deadlines, mean that our members have great difficulty in finding a decent length of time to devote to their writing. Not just the time, but the time in some quantity, and not when they were exhausted or up early to carve out a few moments. I read about a woman who wrote her first novel in her car while waiting for her children on their various activities.

Other writers in our group got fed up with waiting in for deliveries or tradesmen who never show. Then they have to spend time chasing up alternatives and, in my case, feeling especially pathetic when I fail to get repairs done in the house. A directory of tradesmen for writers (ie reliable, cheap, and local) would help everyone.

Dripping tap by Willem van Aken, CSIRO via Wikimedia

Dripping tap by Willem van Aken, CSIRO via Wikimedia

And a Domestic Bill of Rights that entitles writers to time for their writing would help some writers, time without interruption, when they still have energy and head space to write, without being cobbled together from five or ten minutes segments. Or other people in the household taking on tasks. Or no doing them.

2. Computer problems

It is surprising how often this came up as an issue for writers. When the computer isn’t working it not only means the classic tool for writing is not available, but time (again) needs to be spent getting someone to sort it out.

And even if the computer is working okay, there are still the distractions of emails and the seductions of the internet. My own weakness is to allow research to take me far, far away from the original enquiry. Apparently there are apps to turn off distractions while writing. Can’t quite see why a person wouldn’t just turn off email, twitter and internet. But it seems from evidence on twitter that they can’t.

3. Overload of ideas

Here’s a more interesting distraction – too many writing ideas. This is about the process of writing, getting the ideas lined up so they can be dealt with. Definitely a notebook is necessary to help with this distraction. A note wont run away, especially if it’s good. Save them up for all those occasions when ideas and motivation disappear. Automatic writing (also called splurging) might help anyone suffering from too many ideas. It helps clear the mind and might clarify writing priorities.

4. Lack of ideas

You hear about writers who have no idea about what to write. They want those starter exercises. Random ideas prompted by a picture (see Write one Picture a post from the past), a randomly selected phrase from a book (page 68 is always good for that), and good old automatic writing. This is when notebooks come into their own. Or the less inspiration –dependant writing activities like formatting, close editing for accuracy.

I wrote a post called 10 things to do when you don’t know what to do. More ideas there.

5. Losing your folder

‘I don’t know where my writing folder is,’ Mavis told us. Small and large disruptions challenge writers. Moving house effectively interrupts writing for a while. So do other life-changing events, like giving birth, a new job, painting the living room.

6. Inner Voice

‘You should be writing’ You should have finished that section by now. You should be writing 3749 words a day. You should. You should. I’m trying to stick to Oliver Burkham’s non-resolution for the New Year: cut yourself a very good measure of slack. (Other people too but I’m thinking of writers here). Writers are too ready to beat themselves up. Be human. Take your pen (or keyboard) and start your line of letters, and they will turn into words, sentences and ultimately into something that you can call writing. And sometimes you cant. Don’t add to your troubles with guilt.

7. Holidays

Paris Plage 2003 by Benoit Darcy from Paris, France via Wikimedia

Paris Plage 2003 by Benoit Darcy from Paris, France via Wikimedia

In my non-fiction writing project my fellow writers express some guilt when they go on holidays. Lucky them, they seem to go on more extended and exciting breaks than I do. But they need refreshing too. I should follow their example.

Some very useful related material can be found on Toby Litt’s blog: 9 things you need to write a novel.

Do you have any distractions, correctives or approaches to add and help the distracted writer?

 

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