Tag Archives: English

Old material revisited

Back in 2006, I had a supernatural short story called ‘Hunter’ published in the 2006 February Fiction special edition for ‘People’s Friend’. In reply to another one of Inkitt’s competitions, I decided to dig my small stock of paranormal stories out for examination and re-edit.

The candidate I chose was originally the full version to which the 1500 words of ‘Hunter’ were merely a prologue. It’s called ‘Restoration’, a bit of a English period piece. Almost anachronistic, as the world of small market towns and county families is one that has been fading from the English countryside for a number of years. It’s a sort of ‘Country house ghost story’ but this time round I’ve tried to give it a feelgood ending. I’m posting the preliminary artwork below, just to get some other eyes on.
Restoration header

Update: The story is now approved here at Inkitt for their ‘Shiver’ contest. Read, enjoy, ignore the half dozen typos and missed apostrophes etc. Alternatively read here.

Heading those chapters

There’s been a trend for some time with TV shows for episodes given punnish titles intimating brief hints about the episode content. While with ‘Stars’ I went for the rather dry numerical convention like with a technical document. In the Cerberus series I’ve taken a leaf out of the TV playbook, and gone with the pun. Not so much in ‘Head of the Beast’, but definitely in ‘A Falling of Angels’. Three sample chapter headings being ‘Breaking the bad’, ‘The End of a Beginning’, and ‘Lloegr’ (Which means ‘England’ or more poetically ‘Lost Lands’ in Welsh). For an additional example, I’m currently writing a chapter entitled ‘Travelling in Hope class’ which starts to take my hero back to his beginning, and final confrontation with the current bad guys. Possibly. While pursued by another bunch of bad guys who have him pegged as a terrorist. Kind of.

It’s complicated. A lot of fun to write, but quite involved.

Developing ideas

One of the things I think, and this is purely the opinion of a nobody so who really cares, is that when writing a story of any kind, an effort must be made to dodge all the incoming cliché’s. Hear the tell tale whistle of a tired old axiom and hit the metaphorical dirt. This is where I am with both ‘A Falling of Angels’ and ‘Darkness’.

Sometimes, like with Heathrow Airport, these hackneyed old saws can’t be avoided, and for a short while story lines can become predictable and even a little tired. Which can turn original story telling from a journey into a commute, having to use the same old piece of highway or train track, seeing the same old sights with the same old companions. Knowing you’re going to end up in the same old places. Day on day. Year after year. Recycling the same old same old without a new angle rapidly gets dull and repetitious. Which is rather like where Hollywood went with their usual crop of Blockbusters Summer 2013. No wonder audience figures are reported as down.

When I write I’m always looking for a new angle, a quirk or random element. Something unusual, tragi-comic maybe, but always human, always drawn from my or other people’s experiences. It’s my belief that a story path should jump the tracks occasionally to give any reader a fresh perspective. Flesh out a critical character. Surprise, astound, engage a readers thinking muscles by adding a new depth or level of perspective. All that shizzle. Excuse the neologism, but with two stepdaughters in their 20’s, these things tend to creep in. As has been observed, children can do awful things to a vocabulary. Which can be fun until everyone starts doing it, which is where I came in, I think.

Jean-Luc Godard observed that any given story should have a ‘beginning, a muddle, and an end‘, with the codicil “But not necessarily in that order”. By way of comparison, I often see posts about the ‘rules of writing’ on LinkedIn forums, only to observe that there seem to be as many rules as there are writers. I suppose, having thought about it, the key is applying your own singular world view. If other people like it, great, wonderful, fine, but as many a marketing manager stuck on a failing campaign has noted; what should doesn’t always. So it is with developing an idea into a narrative. Which is where I keep on getting stuck. Between what might be original, and what I think constitutes good.

As soon as I’ve worked out a relatively cliché free story direction, I’ll be able to move on. Today that involves stepping away from the keyboard for an hour or three. Making myself useful on the domestic front before evening shift.

One hundred and fifty six thousand words

156,000 words. I have just edited and spellchecked one hundred and fifty six thousand words. That’s rewriting, tweaking, removing errant apostrophes, changing the odd metaphor, scubble handtweek and burble. Gods I’m tired.

It didn’t help that some inconsiderate neighbour went out last night having left their stereo on until five thirty this morning. Thump, thump bloody thump, all flaming night. All this and a Sunday shift. Did I say I was tired? Fortunately I’m not working tomorrow, which is Victoria Day here in BC thank the Lord. I may spend most of it asleep. My eyes feel like they’re about to roll out of their sockets. I did say that I was tired, didn’t I? Something of that ilk. Even the dog is giving me funny looks.

I’m formatting this many words for an eBook release. All a hundred and bloody fifty six flaming thousand of them. Spellcheck, spellcheck and re-read again. Get my word spanner on the odd sentence and tighten it up. Grease a metaphor, polish a simile and take a very large hammer to any conceits. Just to make sure they stay put.

It’s another self publish, hence the grunt work. I want this up and in the marketplace before I trot off back to jolly old Blighty in June. Three weeks of playing catch up with the odd old mate, far flung family and a side trip to Southern Ireland. We’re also going to do a stopover in Amsterdam. Go do things like the Rijkmuseum, a day trip to The Hague before heading back to yet more jet lag.

Now I’m going to walk away from the keyboard to make friends with a bottle of vodka. I’ve earned it.

Life, the Universe and being opinionated. #WritersLife

Five am in the morning, and sleep is a stranger. There are thoughts buzzing around in my head, and respite will not come until I let them out. An overnight flight has ghost howled overhead. Amos, my dog, lies softly snoring at my blanket coddled feet. A diffuse reflected phantasm of Vancouvers city lights illuminates the Eastern night sky, giving the water between the islands a pale, glossy feel.

Of course that’s how I feel about it, and you have only my opinion for that. However, that’s what is going round and round in my head at the moment, keeping pleasant repose at arms length. Like a maddening earworm of a silly pop tune, it won’t leave me be. Think of this as an exorcism of sorts.

There’s an ironic old adage which goes “I know the truth – but you’re just opinionated.” Yet isn’t having opinions on subjects what makes us human? There is even mental elbow room to say that opinion underpins everything we are and do. Here’s the bare bones dictionary definition;



1. A view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

2. The beliefs or views of a large number or majority of people about a particular thing.

view – judgement – judgment – mind – notion – idea

Back when I was but a callow youth, or as Hamlet put it; ‘in my salad days, When I was green in judgment’ I found myself thinking this particular thought. Because it is subjective, the truth can only ever be a matter of opinion. Which is true. For a given value of ‘truth’ that is. There is no absolute value. Because human knowledge is limited, we don’t have all the definitive answers. As that knowledge expands, as we find out more about the universe and our place in it, we plug the gaping abyss of fact with huge wodges of opinion as a kind of stop gap. Or Quantum or String theory. Whatever. Until the next big proof comes around.

For example, there are those who contend a given ‘holy’ book contains the ‘truth’. It’s their opinion. Others insist that Darwins theory of evolution makes all the religious schtick unnecessary. Again, that is another opinion. Bloody wars have been fought, and terrible slaughter made over opinions like these. Millions slaughtered by repressive regimes all because they hold a differing opinion. Which is, if you give it enough thought, a bloody silly way of getting people to change their minds. The threat of violence only suppresses opinions. It cannot change how people think and feel. By way of illustration I was watching a documentary on YouTube last night about Russian aviation development in the mid 20th century, and heard about all the Technicians arrested and executed during the Stalinist era. ‘What a waste of talent’ was the thought that passed through my mind. However, Stalin was obviously of another opinion.

People used to think that Phlogiston was a thing, rather than what we now understand as the process of combustion. All scientific theory is opinion until a body of fact can be garnered to back it up. Theories. being mere matters of opinion, can be overthrown. Science is never settled. Like a river, it is a continual process rather than an absolute. Prevent or suppress the flow of ideas and the river dries up, as do its benefits.

Judges, when passing sentence or judgement are expressing an opinion based on their interpretation of case and accepted law. Politicians express opinions from which those very laws are formed. They in turn are driven by public opinion (Or some would say increasingly focus groups and special advisors). Dependent of course on whether public opinion is in keeping with their own.

The Internet is the great sounding board of our age allowing all to have their say. Yet what most of it drives home one inescapable conclusion; it’s only opinions. Yet how great a part those opinions play. In my opinion, that is.

Confronting the style demon #WritersBlock

If I have a fault as someone who writes, it’s that I tend to get a bit florid with my prose. My particular demon is complex three adjective and noun descriptions of character, place or time, rather than the more simplistic approach of salting character traits throughout a particular passage. This fault is most prevalent with minor characters. I have a tendency to go right over the top with fixed bayonet, charging into sentences, whooping and spilling gory syllables left right and centre. Often long after a particular paragraph or section has come out with white flag and hands high screaming “Enough, already!”. There’s a lot of fun to be had with conceits and extended metaphors. Especially with the more horrifying details. I have a tendency to be a little too, shall we say; graphic? Especially with murder scenes. Having seen a number of deaths up close and personal, I find this disturbingly a little too easy.

So Angie has to sit me down, pat me on the head, and say something like; “I know you don’t react too well to my criticism, dear, but don’t you think you could have written that better? You’re being a bit too poetic.” Which is true. Too often in my rush to impress, I’ve tried to cover all the bases at once. Reiterating and perhaps labouring points too hard when perhaps I should take them sparingly, one at a time. But I am getting better at it. Not being quite so lavish with my descriptions, and putting more effort into simply getting on with the story. Letting the characters speak their lines and not bog things down with leaden travelogue descriptions.

I blame too much Donne and Shakespeare in my literary upbringing. That and two exceptional English teachers, who were, funnily enough, both Welshmen. Not to mention another college lecturer who introduced my class to reading Chaucer aloud in the original Middle English. Which is still a pleasure after all these years. The cadence and rhythm of the language feels somehow more real when spoken. It has its own sorcery.

However, I am always mindful of this particular edict by Samuel Johnson, father of modern English and Lexicographer is once quoted with saying; “Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” Although like a fond parent who dotes on his children, I’m not sure if I can ever be this ruthless, but I am trying to be good. Honestly.

Correct use of the “F-bomb”

I see on a lot of writers and publishers forums discussions of what is euphemistically called the “F-Bomb“. Some seem to feel that using this multi-purpose slang word is ‘bad writing’.

Excessive use is certainly poor practice. Although my feelings on the matter are that ‘bad writing’ is sometimes not using said swear word. If a character is one who swears, then they should swear properly, and not get all dainty mouthed about it. Spending any time in a male dominated environment means one is likely to hear the F – word used as adjective, verb, adverb, noun and in some ‘blue collar’ environments, punctuation and even pauses for breath. A character in any narrative is framed by their speech, and part of a writers job is to paint that picture with veracity. This whole self censorship thing detracts from the honesty of any fictional character and makes them less credible. This attitude comes across, to me at least, as teeth grindingly prissy, censorious and dishonest.

Conversely, it can be argued that ‘bad writing’ is excessive use of the aforementioned swear word, which is also true. My feelings? The trick is to use bad language appropriately.

Technorati key: WW8T74NRBWFX

Abuse of language

My wife Angela, is a Learning Consultant who is, in my estimation, one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen for the age group she covers. When she worked in the UK education system, she often brought children from being barely literate to over three reading grades forward. For this alone she has my total awestruck respect and admiration. In her field I consider her an unsung genius.

Sometimes though, I have to raise my hand and say “No.” This should not detract from who she is or what she does, more to some in her profession who should be taken back to Junior High to learn the proper use of language. Failing that, beaten soundly with a copy of the OED, all twenty plus volumes, including the appendices until some sort of vocabulary sinks in.

Today’s foul neologism is ‘Languaging’. A war crime of a word if ever one was uttered. Essentially it’s an invented adverb, a polysyllabic nonsense to describe how language is used and perceived emotionally to convey ideas to children. In my English literature classes of long ago, we were taught to use the terms ‘context’ and ‘subtext’ to describe such usage. Inventing a term like this speaks to me of someone who can’t be bothered to pick up a dictionary.

My complaint stems not from the invention of the offending collection of semi-random syllables, but the $60 dollar a ticket price tag for a seminar to learn how to use ‘soft’ language and concepts to convey ideas to children. Angie was trying to persuade me to go to a seminar in Vancouver to see what the inventor of this bastardisation was saying. I declined. Sixty bucks is a lot of royalties right at this moment.

In addition my initial reaction to the word, which almost had me roaring with laughter, might have been a marital mistake. Angie became quite defensive and went into intellectual counter-attack mode. We occasionally fence with words and ideas, just for the fun of it, but this little bout had a different tone, like I had challenged something she valued and cherished.

In the end I conceded that this might be the vocabulary of the online world she inhabits, but with the rider that whilst English as a language evolves, that particular term should be buried in a deep Thesaurus at midnight with a figurative stake through its suffix.

Inventing terms for things which do not currently exist is for the creators of fictional worlds, and certainly not in the purview of educators. Language is a toolkit to give ideas shape and form, not for blurring the edges to create some pink fluffy la-la version of real life, then present an infantile world view as factual. Such usage only cheats the children it is used to teach because they are not being properly equipped to deal with the world.

My own point of view is that children will read what stimulates their imagination. Sometimes what children need to get them reading is perhaps not what their educators desire. Dressing it up with terms like ‘Languaging’ doesn’t help.

Visual aids

Not a good day so far. Writing is again at the zero level because I’m busy running around doing other people’s errands. Small things being blown up out of all proportion, and being dumped in my lap. Like it’s my fault they were broken in the first place.

Still. One must persevere in these situations.

I’m beginning to understand why movies cost so much to make. My own first dozen attempts at doing readings for a simple YouTube vid are so full of slurring, fluffs and swearing that I’m beginning to doubt whether English is my first language or not. This is puzzling, because at Drama School, sight reading was at the top of my skill set. There’s also the issue that any vid I make approaching a Gig in file size overloads my little cameras memory controller, and the file will not download. Although considering the standard my sight reading has sunk to, I’m currently thanking goodness for the delete key. There is no way I’m inflicting that on an unsuspecting world. Even for the sheer comedy value.

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.