Grammar Patrol

I am ashamed to admit that I found a copy error on the back of the  business cards I have been using for the last three years. When I started freelancing in 2010, I didn’t know how to use a colon. At worst, dodgy copy makes things downright confusing for the reader: at best, it makes you look like a numpty – especially when you are selling your writing and editing skills.

Here is the offending item:

business card

I’m always recommending that people don’t use a colon to introduce a list in this way. It is unnecessary and it often leads to confusing sentences. I think that must be the reasoning behind the fact that it is plain wrong. Nevertheless, this use is extremely common. If you want to go for an “A” grade, make sure that what precedes the colon is a proper sentence. Yes I’ve just re-ordered my cards with a rewritten blurb; that colon cost me £20.

So, having admitted one of my many faults, am I permitted to share a giggle over some other people’s, from my collection?

This invokes visions of staff swinging into the toilet, Tarzan style, on the disabled alarm cord (and possibly landing with a splash of toilet water).

27-WP_000416

Here is some classic apostrophe abuse, compounded by inconsistency. If there are Coffee’s, why aren’t there also Tea’s, Breakfast’s, Cocktail’s, Wine’s, Spirit’s and Beer’s?

IMG_0111a

I was very disappointed that I didn’t see any old vehicles being smashed at the museum in Alston; I wouldn’t mind smashing a few exclamation marks, though!

Grammar Patrol! Grammar Patrol ‘ten’SHUN! Turning to the right in threes disMISS! Carry on!

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Ten Things in a Small Corner of my Desk

As someone once said, “Writer’s block is what gets the housework done.”

I suppose that would be true if Twitter and Pinterest didn’t exist.

I often fall prey to the thinking that if I could only rearrange my personal workspace to be more perfect, then I would be more productive. In real life, the most productive phases of my work are more likely to be associated with utter chaos on my desk  – like today.

What the picture below does not show are the two other empty coffee cups and the two empty Powerade® bottles, an assortment of neckerchiefs, several books, more sticky labels, an empty wine glass, two egg timers, a letter opener and some pirate stickers. Nevertheless, in the spirit of “Desks of the Rich and Famous: Workspaces of Highly Creative People“, here is a small corner of my universe:

desk1

Freelancing: a Time Management System that Works for Me

Linguistic Peeves: “A Big Thank You”

A female African Bush Elephant raises her trun...

I like well modulated grammar. I appreciate the clarity and accuracy that comes from applying the rules. I also enjoy seeing those rules creatively and consciously broken. Language lives; usage comes and goes and I embrace innovation. But (and, yes, these days it is fine to start a sentence with “but”), there are some things up with which I will not put:

A BIG THANK YOU

A big thank you” what? It hangs there like “a wrinkly elephant”.

Okay so, “A big thank you to all our supporters …” from whom? What are people trying to do with this phrase? It is so passive that the wonderful verb of thanking someone has become a wrinkly elephant of a noun that nobody will claim to own.

Fine, then, “We would like to say a big thank you to all our supporters.” Better, but that’s still a bit like saying, “we’d like to say a wrinkly elephant to all our supporters.” And why the conditional? Is there a problem?

“We would like to say a big thank you to all our supporters, but it sounds silly.” I agree with that.

Maybe if the big thank you is what you want to say then it should be in quotation marks? “We would like to say a big thank you to all our supporters.” That doesn’t make sense either, it just adds a dollop of sarcasm.

I’m reminded of the parson in church, “Lord, we pray for all the people in the world and we especially pray for the widows and orphans.” That’s not praying, that’s just telling God that you are praying – WHAT do you pray for the orphans?

Maybe expressing the wish to issue “a big thank you” is a way of avoiding actually thanking anyone in the same way that the parson who prays for widows and orphans never actually prays for them.

Well, I just want to say “a big wrinkly elephant” to all who read this blog.

Thank you for reading it, thank you for commenting and interacting with me. I’m grateful to you all and I just wanted to express that somehow.

Google Insights: Fairies decline in popularity but trolls and goblins are on the rise

Every now and then I drop into “Google Insights” to take the pulse of popular opinion. Today I thought I’d see what the state of play is with the relative popularity of mythical creatures.

Not surprisingly, fairies rule. But, not for much longer? While gnomes hold a steady baseline there seems to be a rising interest in trolls and goblins. In fact, if they joined forces they could push the fairies into obscurity any day now. The vulnerability of fairies is shown in a distinct downward trend in their popularity over the last six years – at least as far as Google searches are concerned.

Should we be worried about these developments? What do you think?

I’m rooting for the little green guys and their under-bridge dwelling allies, to be honest, but where do their hopes lie?

A quick look at the breakdown by country shows that is is in South Africa that the goblins are finding their strongest support and, oddly enough, the Belgians don’t give a stuff about fairies and prefer gnomes by a long way.

It would also seem that, according to some school children, goblins have been making trouble in Zimbabwe lately.

If you fancy hearing a story about the war between the fairies and the goblins that took place simultaneously with one of our world wars you can have a listen to the story, “Two Handkerchiefs” at Stories from the Borders of Sleep.

The Life and Times of our Mutual Friend (Volume One)

I have in front of me a remarkable and unique work of art created in 1994 and given to my sister and I as a Christmas present at the end of that year.

Nowadays, this would be called an “Art Book” but this was created before the days when such projects were fashionable.

I’m referring to “The Life and Times of Our Mutual Friend (Volume One)” by Friends of a Friend INK. Back in the day when this project was conceived, my sister and I spent holidays with our friends Hoagy and Jessie constructing advanced versions of the game of “Consequences”.

In its simplest form, the players take a sheet of paper and write a name of someone real or imagined on the top and pass it to the next person after folding the paper over to hide what they have written. The next person writes another name and folds the paper. The next person writes a place, the next writes what the first character said, the next person writes the reply and the last person writes the consequence.

When read out, the resulting story goes something like this:

Winston Churchill
met
Napoleon Bonaparte
on
Dartmoor
Churchill said:
 “Lovely weather for the time of year”
Napoleon said:
 “I’m tired of washing socks”
And the consequence was:
 They sailed away in a viking longboat

This lends itself to a surrealism that we took to its ultimate heights.

We drew pictures with various heads, bodies and legs, composed rambling stories, invented books (complete with excerpts and reviews), wrote letters and made up recipes using the consequences approach. The art form reached its peak in this monumental volume, composed, as the fly-leaf describes, between November the 6th and December the 30th 1994.

Well, to share the contents would only baffle the reader because every third line is a clever in-joke that makes reference to some of the other games we played, the code names we invented for some of “our mutual friends”, and the characters we assumed on long walks along the Cornish coast. However, the meticulously realised watercolour illustrations are instantly accessible.

Here is my sister:

And here is me:

Turning over these pages, I am reminded of the endless inventiveness and creativity of children (well, early teenagers) growing up WITHOUT TELEVISION.

All four of us have grown up to be writers of one sort or another. You can read Jessie’s literary blog “The Filthy Comma” and look forward to the novel that I believe is in progress. My sister blogs at “Through The Lattice” and is working on a series of books for children while home-schooling her own brood. Hoagy was a fairly prolific generator of online content and gave me some solid pointers when I started out freelancing. I’m podcasting my short stories at “Stories from the Borders of Sleep.”

In the meantime, here are some sample exam questions from The Life and Times of our Mutual Friend:

– What colour did the passing people turn at the very thought of it?
– What is the music in the hall of the mountain king and who does he point at with his left ear?
– What should you do when a smooth rich texture has been achieved?
– What was Don Quixoat doing in the moat?
– What does Princess Taiwan break over her knee?
– What is the need of the person Jim gives his pension book to greater than?

Google Contextual Ads Bring a Tinge of Irony to Apocalyptic Predictions

So I only just found out about the end of the world, too. So I checked in to judgementday2011.com – it was hard to focus on the facts with all those adverts offering me one last bite at life on earth:

Errr ….

Thank you, how very welcoming!

Salvation or sushi? The choice is yours!

Whatever happens tomorrow some people are going to be quids in. I predict that making predictions could become a big business in the future.

Bible on a Washing Line!??

When I gave up working in a stable, full-time job this time last year in order to pursue a creative streak, I thought I had a good idea of where that would take me. I had a plan to write, commercially, and grow a freelancing business as quickly as possible. However, as soon as I gave a bit of space to my dreams, they sort of got a life of their own and I got drawn into some projects in a way I had not anticipated.

One of these projects was a small theatre company, started by a good friend, James Robinson (AKA noahsapprentice), who has always had a knack for persuading me to do odd things like helping him to give a seminar dressed as a pirate and toting an accordion. The opportunity to get involved in performing as part of “Noah’s Nanny Goat Productions” seemed to draw together the threads of my passion for communicating with not just the written word but the spoken and acted word as well.

This year, being the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, has sparked a renewed interest in the Bible and a host of initiatives under the the banner of Biblefresh that seeks to restore some level of biblical literacy to Britain and explore fresh ways of presenting scripture. It seemed like a good moment to jump on the band waggon and the fruit of some eight months of writing, rewriting, wrestling and rehearsing is at last apparent in our first ever show, “Bible on a Washing Line”.

The "washing line" bit is because ... oh, it will take too long to explain ... Just come and see the show!

A year ago I never imagined that this is what I’d be doing and it goes to show the thrill and the danger of taking risks and opening up to wider horizons. We are even taking BOAWL on tour.

The show is about an hour and twenty minutes long with no interval and takes the audience on a frantic tour through the Bible, looking at some well known and some less well known characters and stories from the Bible. It is fast and funny and hopefully provokes people to think as well as laugh.

It is basically a series of short sketches based on “Top Tens” from the Bible, including the top ten deaths (which is set in a forensic lab), the top ten relationships (a reality TV show), the top ten foods (a restaurant) and the top ten animals (a zoo).  The website is: noahsnannygoat.org.uk and tickets for the tour can also be bought on the website.

At the moment we are going to be performing in:

Darlington on May 14th at 7:30pm in Bondgate Methodist Church
Durham on May 27th at 7:30pm in St John’s, Nevilles Cross
Durham on May 29th at 6:00pm in St. Mary Magdalene’s, Belmont
Horley (near Gatwick) on June 1st at 7:30pm in St. Wilfrid’s, Horley
Godalming (near Guildford) on June 2nd at 7:30pm in a venue TBC
Birmingham on June 3rd at 3:00pm (matinee) and 7:30pm in St. Thomas’, Aldridge
Manchester on June 4th at 7:30pm in St. John’s, Mossley

More dates and venues to be announced.

See you there?

Links:

Noah’s Nanny Goat Productions

Biblefresh Experiences (Drama)

The Big Bible Project

Off The Page Drama