Category Archives: Language

On the evolution, abuses and politically incorrect use of English as a language

Why Vampires and Zombies?

I was in Chapters, our local bookstore this afternoon, and couldn’t help wondering at the proliferation of Vampire and Zombie related titles. Is it just me, or does anyone else out there find the whole living dead thing a bit old hat and rather tired?

From the salacious covers on display, I’d say there was some serious pseudo-erotic component in there. Particularly as there were a lot of sexy female vampire type covers. Fangs, fancy corsetry, high hemlines and plenty of voluptuous décolletage, that sort of thing. Oh well, if that’s what a section of the public wants, I’m glad there’s someone to cater for that particular low taste in literature.

As for Zombies. Well, the thing about zombies is that they’re dead and decomposing. After death, flesh rapidly loses its cohesion as bacteriological processes run their course. Connective tissue shrinks and binds, proteins dissolve and bits drop off. As for the whole brain eating meme, the digestive organs and mucosa are among the first things to rot on a corpse. So the suspension of witting disbelief has to be pretty strong for readers of the genre. Even if a zombie could get up enough of a lick of speed to catch you, its body is falling apart, and the wretched thing will have no digestive system to absorb your living grey and white matter as a protein source, even if it had sufficient strength to kill you, what with wasting flesh and disarticulation of joints. Smelly, yes, unhygienic certainly; but scary? Hmm. withholding judgement on that one.

All very macabre, but can’t compare to what living people are capable of inflicting on each other without supernatural intervention.

Self Publicity

I’ve been following a couple of writers discussion threads on LinkedIn and twitter for some few days now. The most active being one called “What’s the best way for writers to promote themselves?” on LinkedIn. Having been writing with various degrees of success over the years, I thought I’d add my five cents worth.

For those not in the rarified air of academia, where various cliques interact to publish what the rest of us mere mortal hacks sometimes consider too self involved. I refer to ‘Prize winning’ books with prose so dense as to be almost unreadable. Books that without the publicity of the prize would inevitably suffer the fate of pulp mill and remaindered book store. The volumes where content is subservient to style are my particular dislike. As far as I’m concerned it’s the story that matters, not the author.

To we lesser mortals left to our own resources, the task of getting one’s work into print often seems insurmountable. Manuscripts languish unread in publishers ‘slush piles’, having failed to engage one readers specific interest. There have been occasions where an author has submitted the first three chapters of a published ‘classic’, only for the MSS to be returned with a rejection slip and formulaic ‘Better luck elsewhere’ letter. I’ve had thirty plus years of observing the mainstream publishing trade in inaction and I’ve formed my own opinion on what a writers best path forward is.

Two elements seem to be key, apart from grammar and spelling etcetera; theme and amount. A single book will not engage a readers interests unless the story is so compelling that it cannot be ignored, nor will the most polished and crafted short story. For all their perfection, they are merely another tree in the forest. Mostly ignored. A body of similarly themed work is, I argue, far more likely to attract attention. A lot of mud has to be thrown for it to stick.

Now take for example the work of Terry Pratchett; particularly his semi-satirical Discworld novels. I ‘discovered’ Terry’s work via a friend who lent me a three year old copy of his howlingly funny Sourcery, which as anyone who knows Terry’s work will observe, is hardly the first of the Discworld series. Before that, I’d never heard of him. Even afterwards, having read everything of his except his latest offering ‘Snuff’. I’m moved to concede that had I only read “The colour of magic” I’d not have bothered with the rest, and missed some of the funniest, most refreshing reading I’ve ever enjoyed. The more he’s written, the more avidly I’ve devoured each new volume. Yet had he not written so much, his comic genius would have had at least one less reader.

Some authors who write under a series of pseudonyms for the romance and erotica genres seem to pump out a novella a month to a formulaic plot. Thrillers not so much, but there are a number who put out one book every six months, recycling plots better than a garden compost bin. Yet these people become household names. Why? Because they write what can only be described as ‘Product’, and like cans of beans in a supermarket their output sells. The royalty cheques flow, which is what a writer needs. Food in the larder, and a little in the bank to fuel the obsession, because writing and storytelling is by specific need, obsessive-compulsive. It’s certainly no way to get rich.

It seems to me that a person is either (and often both) a storyteller or a listener, and neither can help who they are. We can only tell our tales to feed our mutual human need for novelty and stimulation. There is, I contend, an audience for everyone. It’s down to the individual storyteller to pump out so much work that their voice cannot be ignored.

In this way, the Internet and eBooks are becoming the new sounding board. Critique and reason is now open to all consumers of prose, not just that sifted by professional readers and bored Summer Students hired to wade through a mountain of literary pitchblende to find commercial radium. This is a situation we as writers need to take full advantage of. Write, create, polish, publish online. Short fiction, biographies, long fiction. Put out such a body of decent work it cannot be ignored, and your readers will discover you.

That is what I intend to do.

Back to work.

New resources for ePublishing; Amazons Kindle and Barnes & Nobles Pubit.

Dictionaries required

Many years ago I had an English Teacher, a very good English Teacher. One who drove into us the basics of grammar, syntax and dictionary definitions. When she was done (Thank you Mrs Foster) even the dimmest mind in our class grasped the basics. Nowadays, in these days when everyone has an email account the wanton display of outright ignorance astounds me.

Regrettably our means of written and verbal communication is being debased by letting the lowest common denominator do what giving money to people who couldn’t pay it back has done to the Western currencies. Heavy sigh. Even in mainstream news articles where people are paid to have a better than average grasp of English these mistakes / misprisions are legion. Perhaps sub literate has become the new standard for sub editors.

I don’t want to come across as some sort of pedant or ‘grammar nazi’ but really, what is so hard about getting the words right? Stuff I was taught about in primary school at the age of ten; simple differences between ‘there’ (location), ‘their’ (possession) or they’re (Contraction for ‘they are’) are the most commonly displayed. ‘Pour’ (to decant) and ‘pore’ (to scrutinise). It’s astonishing. How can people make such basic mistakes? Why do they not hide their faces in shame at their lack of care? Don’t even get me started about ‘lose’ (mislay) and ‘loose’ (let go). No wonder Lynne Truss had such success with Eats Shoots and Leaves.

An appeal to people’s better nature might be in order here. Words are innocent things, poor abused collations of letters and syllables. My plea is this; if you don’t know what it means, please pick up a dictionary and check. If you require, take the time to learn to read and write. Nothing major, just the basics. You’ll be a better person for the effort.

The English language has taken so long to reach this point. As a flexible tool for conveying complex ideas it has no real peer. English has a cultural heritage so rich you could base a currency upon it. Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Orwell laid new foundations and enriched what they began with. Why can we not aspire to follow their example? What is this cultural love affair with a slope headed sub-Neanderthal world view that prizes novelty and ignorance above knowledge? To use a simile, taking that approach is like trying to run a marathon carrying a fifty pound backpack. It handicaps, not helps. Not learning simple rules reduces communication to mumbled grunting and a daily re run of the bone smashing scene from 2001. Aren’t we a bit more evolved nowadays?

Language is like any tool, a little care will reap benefits beyond measure. Failure to handle correctly may cause injury, and abuse simply blunt the cutting edge. /rantmode

Going fishing now.