Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Some people have a way with words, and other people...oh, uh, not have way.

Thank you Steve Martin for bringing an extra large smile to my face on this rainy morning. (I say extra large because rain doesn't stop me from smiling at all!)

As an editor of brochures and articles for different companies, I have developed some pet peeves.

(No, surely not, Caroline. You are so linguistically tolerant, as we all know.)

from Sorcha's Haven

When people write, often covering difficult topics very well, the one thing I wish they wouldn't do is use a long word where a short word would do. Not just 'do' but be better and provide more clarity. I can't stand any form of sesquipedalian loquaciousness.

Here is the Number One pet peeve of the moment, guaranteed to make my nimble fingers reach for my editor's machete and slash without mercy.

UTILISE instead of USE.


I'm sure it's because people want to add gravitas to their work but utilising utilise (see what I did there?) simply has the effect of making it sound pretentious and over-written.

So when WOULD you use utilise then?

Here's what Grammar Girl says (except I changed the z to s because I'm proud to be British!)

"Utilise does have very specific and valid uses, mostly in the scientific world. The word “utilise” often appears “in contexts in which a strategy is put to practical advantage or a chemical or nutrient is being taken up and used effectively.”  For example, according to the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, you might hear “utilise” properly used in a sentence such as “If a diet contains too much phosphorus, calcium is not utilised efficiently.”

Lifelong learning...

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Creative writing class - a Dam-Burst of Dreams?

 A Christy Nolanesque tumult of poetry? (Note to self: Must read Dam-Burst of Dreams again.) A Joycean stream of consciousness?

My Emotional Dam Burst by Astrid Dahl
In my case, more of a damn burst of dreams. These dreams I have; this idea that writing comes easy.

It most often doesn't, let me tell you. It especially doesn't when faced with a timed writing challenge.

It was a lovely group of writers, reassuring and welcoming. I felt cherished. Roddy, the main man, made me a cup of peppermint tea. And still my brain froze.

The exercise was to choose a couple of words at random - words which were completely unknown to me and turned out to be Yiddish - and craft a story round them, giving them meaning, any meaning. Oh and in your spare time, the theme was...

Title still from the movie by Shueti
 My words were Tsuris and Plotz. Their meanings, it transpired, were trouble/woe and to burst/explode. How wonderfully ironic!

I froze... and then I thawed a bit. It was SUCH a good exercise. There were some brilliant writers there who, in twenty minutes, produced complete stories with beginning, middle and end. I managed the first half chapter of something a lot longer starring Uber-Captain Zincbath. Yes, I know...

Then everyone read out wot they had wrote. It didn't feel too threatening at all.

I learned that I CAN write even when my brain is telling me it wants to crawl under the duvet with a hot water bottle. That it's important just to keep going, no matter what.

Like Ray Bradbury says, in Zen in the Art of Writing: "An athlete may run ten thousand miles in order to prepare for one hundred yards. Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come."

So thank you Roddy Phillips ,and all the members of the Lewes Creative Writing Class, for an inspirational and thought-provoking evening.

I will return. And I will do my homework. Honest.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Watch this space?

 This is the space you were watching to see if my alcohol-caffeine-sugar-meat-free diet made a difference to the fluency of my writing.

Here it is:

Writing is not forthcoming.

The good news is that the noble headache has gone.

The even better news is that tonight I'm going to my first creative writing workshop.

"The weekly workshops take a student-centred approach to creative writing, offering a range of strategies to help you develop as a writer. Members are encouraged to explore their creative writing potential through self-awareness and self-discovery."

(I'm hoping one of the strategies might be a rocket up the backside.)

"There are timed exercises and participants are given relevant homework each week and receive appropriate and constructive feedback."


Thank goodness I have the dogs.


Sunday, 28 July 2013

Be careful what you wish for?

Here's what I wish for everyone:

Have a beautiful and tranquil Sunday.

Is that careful enough?

Nicholas St John Rosse
I think so...

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The noble headache

Some of them are.

Mine is.

Audrey Niffenegger
It's the sort of headache you get when you cut alcohol and caffeine from your diet. You should try it. If you're a masochist.

It's a dull, thumping, constant ache, quite debilitating, but two good things about it:
  1. I know it won't last 
  2. I can feel self-satisfied about it because the reasons behind it are so  jolly HEALTHY
Nothing worse than a smug headache martyr.

red bubble

Friday, 26 July 2013

Writing is bad for your health

 It's official.

The thing is, there's something inside my brain that murmurs incessantly - "You need coffee to write. It clears your head. Makes you more productive. Staves off the sleepy moments. Come on, Caroline. You know it makes sense."

Okay, so I only have one cup a day.

Today, however, I'm starting a week long Food Doctor diet. (I've been feeling sluggish and achy. Could be the muggy weather. Could be too much caffeine. It surely can't be my time of life?)

Today, the highlight is pumpkin seeds. No coffee. No sugar. No alcohol.

That's another thing. I do like a glass of wine in the evening. The words seem to flow more freely from the recesses of my brain. They sometimes make sense as well.

Interesting experiment of the week:

Will my writing be more fluent or less without alcohol and coffee?

Oh my goodness. Damian Sowers writes, "Choose your drug: alcohol, marijuana, mushrooms… Any one of these will make your writing better" and "Sober writers love to use fancy shit like semicolons. Nobody likes to see a semicolon."

This is worrying; I use semicolons even after the Prosecco.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Writing Tip:The first rule of intelligent tinkering is ...?

 " save all the parts," says Paul Ehrlich (but then, he was a physician and scientist.)

In novel writing, I hereby declare that the first rule of intelligent tinkering is:

Saul Steinberg
I hardly dare tell you how much and how often I've tinkered with the first three chapters of Falling Awake

O, that way madness lies.

I have to ask myself WHY DO I DO IT?

Once I've completed the novel (she says, optimistically) the first three chapters will surely change anyway.

Tinkering totally inhibits any forward progress with the rest of the story and saps me of inspiration and enthusiasm.


(but there must be a better word than 'flaming' I could use on line 1, page 4? Let me just consult Mr. Roget and his oversized Thesaurus...)


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

"How to Instantly Become a Better Writer" - hee hee hee

Okay, so I'm a bit of a grammar fanatic.

(N.B. Please do NOT use the term grammar Nazi, which I find offensive. To compare my desire to stick to linguistic rules with any of the horrors perpetrated in the Second World War is... at best inappropriate.)

Okay, so I'm a bit of a pedant too.

Anyway - "How to Instantly Become a Better Writer" graced an email from someone I admire for his work on boosting blog traffic. It made me laugh uproariously!

How to Instantly Become A Better Writer?

Well, you could start by avoiding split infinitives, mate!

For the most part, split infinitives in sentences make me cringe. They sound so UGLY. The beauty of the English language is something I hold dear and I hate it when it's sullied by sloppy syntax.

That's not to say that splitting infinitives is ALWAYS wrong. Sometimes it works, because turning oneself inside out to avoid it leads to some incredibly clumsy phrasing, stilted and unnatural, and could change the meaning of the sentence.

Here's a great example from the linguist R.L.Trask. 
  • She decided to gradually get rid of the teddy bears she had collected.
"Gradually" splits the infinitive "to get". However, if the adverb were moved, where could it go?
  • She decided gradually to get rid of the teddy bears she had collected.
This might imply that the decision was gradual.
  • She decided to get rid of the teddy bears she had collected gradually.
This implies that the collecting process was gradual.
See the whole article cited in Wikipedia.
Conclusion: Split infinitive...avoidable.

Or you could just take the path of a few of my friends:

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Three things you need to become a successful novelist


According to Michael Chabon, "an acclaimed and bestselling author whose works include the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay " so I guess we'd better listen to him.

Here they are:

"Talent, luck and discipline. Discipline is the one element of those three things that you can control, and so that is the one that you have to focus on controlling, and you just have to hope and trust in the other two.”

I'm very like an octopus on rollerskates then. (That's assuming I have any talent.)

My writing friend, Chitra Soundar, puts me to shame. Every day.

She works full time in a bank. She gets up every day between 5 and 6 and writes 1000 words.

I truly admire her. 

This morning, I got up at 5.59 a.m. I wrote 1000 words on a piece of paper.

Then, just to be on the safe side, I wrote it again.

I didn't feel the hoped for sense of achievement.

Am I missing something here, Chitra?

Monday, 22 July 2013

I have mood poisoning. Must be something I hate.

Marilyn Manson - who'd have thought I'd ever be quoting from him, but a good quote it is. Here's a jolly pic to brighten up your Monday:

I do NOT have mood poisoning, by the way. I was just thinking about puns and how much I adore them.

“You can lead a horticulture, but you cannot make her think,”said Dorothy Parker, just to confirm it.

I was brought up on puns. So much cheaper than baby food.

The delicious fare presented to me in my childhood was I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again and it still has me laughing in its current manifestation, impish son of ISIRTA - I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.

That's quite amazing, when you think about it - from 1967, when it was first broadcast, to today. Gulp - that's forty six years. FORTY SIX YEARS. There's longevity for you.

I wonder if it's a particularly British form of humour? I wonder if it's the type of humour that only people of my sort of age group enjoy?

Here's what had me giggling yesterday, when picking blackcurrants - generally the most tedious of jobs. The team was putting forward suggestions for less successful charities:

Brown Nose Day, Kelp For Heroes, The Salivation Army, Colonic Relief...and my two favourites:

Children in Tweed


Guide Dogs For The Blonde

Is it just me?

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Yes, sad songs DO make me happy!

There's research from Tokyo University and the RIKEN Brain Institute flying about the airwaves at the moment which asserts that listening to sad music may well make us feel happier.

Sure it does.

This morning, I was feeling a little miserable because my hip joint hurts so much, and, as an active person, I hate the inconvenience, though it doesn't stop me from carrying on.  Then I was feeling MORE miserable because I have zillions of blessings in my life, so ended up castigating myself for daring to feel miserable for even one millisecond.

Then I got into the car to go to the yard and heard this on the radio:

The beauty of it brought tears to my eyes. Though sad, the emotions that welled up inside me were exactly those of the unutterable joy I feel at the birth of Matilda, my first grandchild.

Not the sort of transitory joy that makes you want to scream and shout from the rooftops and then it's gone, but a deep and fulfilling and eternal joy.

The researchers 'noted that emotions stirred up by music do not pose a direct threat to listeners, unlike emotions we feel on a daily basis. "Therefore," they say, "we can even enjoy unpleasant emotion such as sadness. If we suffer from unpleasant emotion evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative emotion."'

The conclusion of the experiment, with me as subject? My hip still hurts but I no longer feel miserable!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

To Matilda: "When you were born, the sight of your face and the noise of your voice brought people joy, you are a carrier of peace and love."

(Martin Suarez might have said this before I thought of it)

All I have to say today is that I am the proudest first-time grandmother IN THE WORLD. EVER.

Here is Matilda:

Beautiful, precious child of Laurie and Irene. Born July 18th, in Squamish, B.C.

Did I say that I was the proudest first-time grandmother in the world? Ever!

I am. And let no-one tell you any different.

Bundles of love to Laurie, Irene and Matilda.

Can't wait to see you in August. It will be the best birthday present anyone could ever ask for.

K M Berggren - Love Flows Outwards

Friday, 19 July 2013

A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource.

All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art  Jorge Luis Borges,

I DO think just like that - however, many of the stories can't be told. Not at least in any recognisable form.

I have no wish to upset any living person.

Or be sued.

So, for the most part...

That's not to say that our experiences can't still be a resource. They shape us as a person so they MUST shape our work, like it or not.

I'm going to explore this further, though not today. 

There's too much happening in my life that I'm storing up as a resource to be revealed in my next story!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

On literary criticism: "From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter."

"Someday I intend reading it."

I love you, Groucho Marx.

I love Stephanie Meyer too, author of  The Twilight Saga, for saying this: “The thing people don't realise, God bless them, is that my books are supposed to suck.”

Literary criticism. You've got to laugh. Haven't you?

Charles Joseph Travies de Villiers

I really do try to appreciate any sort of criticism and suggestions about my writing. Sending off so much work to prospective publishers at the moment is an exercise in patience, pragmatism and good grace. Believe me, I know publishers receive hundreds of submissions so I am grateful that anyone takes the time. (Grateful, but not pathetically grateful!)

To hear back from anyone is also a wonderful illustration of how reviewing novels is hardly an exact science. Views may be opposite...

Publisher One: Your novel is quirky and different, so much so that I wouldn't know where to place it in the market.

Publisher Two: Your story felt too familiar, not quite different enough.

To me, this is oddly reassuring. To me this means that my work is dividing opinion and surely that's better than not registering on people's interest radar at all? To me, this means that there is hope.

Someone, somewhere will think that it is different,

but not TOO different...

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The woman creates a pseudonym and hides behind it like a worm

...was nearly said by...

I've decided to write under a pseudonym and hide behind it like a worm.

The pseudonym I have chosen is J.K.Rowling. It will be wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.

Do you think I'll sell many books?

(Of course, once my true identity is revealed, sales will rocket up by more than 507,000%)

I think it will be more successful than my previous bid for anonymity, using an anagram of my name:

Corona Lexicon made me appear just that bit too stuffy and intellectual...

"Reading Girl" by Gustav Adolph Hennig (German, 1797-1869)
So... J.K.Rowling it is.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

I wish I was Roger Ebert when I write film reviews...

 (except, I'd rather not be dead!)

Here's a bad review of Freddie got Fingered, from Roger Ebert:

"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."

Here's a good review of Beauty and the Beast, from Roger Ebert:

"It slipped around all my roadblocks and penetrated directly into my strongest childhood memories."

Here's a brilliant review of The Moo Man, from Caroline Coxon:

N.B. I mean that the film is brilliant, not the review.

Last night, I went to see it at The Picture House in Uckfield - with fourteen friends!

Today I want to say The Right Things about it, so loads of other people go to see it too.

This documentary, about a local (to me) dairy farmer, Stephen Hook, striving to preserve traditional ways instead of being swallowed up by huge operations with enough financial clout to deal on an equal footing with supermarkets and dairy processing giants.

Simple fact of life: Supermarkets pay him 27p for a litre of milk which costs him 34p to produce.

Stephen loves his cows, knows each one of them, spends time talking to them, stroking them and caring for them - yet still runs a business, part of which is beef production.

The Moo Man is a tranquil joy to watch, as gentle as a line of cows ambling up the meadow to be milked. It's beautifully and sensitively filmed, epitomising an England of today which I hope fervently will never become a bygone era.

It made me think. It certainly made me think about the cavalier way I buy 6 litre plastic containers of milk from Tesco, with nary a thought about the quality of life of the cows who produced it and the price paid to the farmers.

It made me yearn for a slower pace of life, while never sentimentalising what sloggingly hard work farming can be.

The film is laugh-out-loud in places -  cows have minds of their own -  and we were often moved by  the way Stephen Hook lived his life and respected his animals, in life, in sickness and in death.

The sheer humanity of it.

Is humanity the right word? Hey, Roger Ebert, I'm going to invent a new word.

Cowmanity. The Moo Man is over-flowing with it.

Moomanity, even.

Don't miss it. It's a rare treat.

Monday, 15 July 2013

“Twas doing nothing was her curse. Is there a vice can plague us worse?”

A nearly Hannah More (1745 – 1833, English religious writer) quote.

Yesterday, I had a bit of a holiday. 

There are days when it appears I do very little but my mind is busy all the time, worrying that I'm not achieving anything, puzzling over things I may have forgotten to do, being busy, being occupied with insignificancies because that's what you have to do, isn't it? Be busy. Doing nothing is BAD AND WRONG.

These days are exhausting. More exhausting than the days that are so busy, you hardly have time to breathe.

So, yesterday I designated to be a holiday.

I was active in my doing-nothingness. After a leisurely ride on the forest, mostly I slept in the garden, slept on the bed, ate a little, drank a little, listened to an audiobook (Neil Gaiman's wonderful The Ocean At The End of the Lane), 

Reading would have been too much effort. Holding the book. Turning the pages. Keeping the eyes open.

web link
I achieved a lot yesterday.

I restored my mind, body and soul.

Amber Jones

Sunday, 14 July 2013

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time.

The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.

Neil Gaiman. Oh, how I've been enjoying listening. on BBC Radio 4, to The Ocean at the End of the Lane

...and, this is a title and a book cover that makes me compelled to buy, to read, to treasure.

Note to self. Never underestimate the importance of titles and book covers (chance would be a fine thing...)

My thoughts were inspired, yet again, by Radio 4 - listening to Val McDermid, Scottish crime writer, on Desert Island Discs. (A crime writer who is Scottish, not a writer who writes about Scottish crime, just to make that clear!)

 “I find walking by water is somehow helpful to the creative flow. Maybe it’s something to do with the movement of water but I always find that when I’m stuck when I’m writing, walking by the sea really helps.”

And here is where she lives - Alnmouth, in Northumberland.

It's easy to imagine creativity flowing here. Isn't it just?

What's the source of my ideas? What inspires me to write? (not including this blog)

Paree Erica
No - not chasing butterflies - but that's what it's like. As elusive as that.

I think I need to give it some thought so that maybe I can capture those moments.