Archive for March, 2012

Before I begin, a word on Muphry’s Law: “If you write anything criticising editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.”

Yeah, well pick the bones out of this one*.

During a recent chat with friends-who-write, the conversation turned to mistakes. We all agreed that errors are proliferating. Not only online but also in respectable printed material. One of my companions said, “I don’t mind a few errors in a book. Somehow it makes the author human.”

“Bollocks!” quoth I.

At what other profession would you smile indulgently and overlook the fact the delivers of the service/product have ballsed up their core competence because they’re ‘human’? Plumbing? Fire-fighting? Banking?

Ah.

Well, anyway, back to books.

Examples:

  • He stiffened for a moment but then she felt his muscles loosen as he shitted on the ground. From ‘Baby I’m Yours’ by Susan Andersen. (One wrong consonant and a whole shift in tone. Tsk – everyone knows the past tense of shit is shat.)
  • In the weak light of dawn, I tugged on the gown and sleeves I’d discarded like a wonton last night to fall into John’s arms. From ‘The Queen’s Governess’ by Karen Harper.
  • The cats nestle close to their kittens
  • The lambs have laid down to sleep
  • You’re cozy and warm in your bed, dear
  • Please go the fuck to sleep. From ‘Go the Fuck to Sleep’ by Adam Mansbach.
  • From a debate in Publishing Perspectives about paper versus digitization: But digital contents allow us to correct the errors much faster, just updating them and this is a huge advantadge.

Why are there so many mistakes in modern books?

One theory is the whorey old chestnut: standards of education are declining. But it’s been traditional for every generation to say so since the dawn of thyme.

Some say the way we write is to blame. “Use of the word processor has resulted in a substantial decline in author discipline and attention.” Geoff Shandler, editor-in-chief at Little, Brown.

Or it could be the pressure of commerce. Big publishers have slashed their costs to a minimum, cutting copyediting jobs and reducing the stages from manuscript to publication. Publishers’ focus is now on marketing and agents want to make you marketable. What of the roll of editor?

♦ Who will pounce on your punctuation problems and explain the difference between an en dash and a hyphen? Where can you glean grammatical expertise on the difference between as and like? What kind of buffer stands between you and a sentence such as this:

Overhanging her precarious body was a jaundiced face whose skin resembled a sheet of parchment paper punctured by two emotionless eyes. From ‘Deception Point’ by Dan Brown.

Sue, owner and curator of this fine blog, previously put forward an articulated argument of why an independently published writer should invest in quality cover design. She’s right. And a writer has a similar obligation to insure the content is the best it can possibly be. This will involve at least one other pair of eyes.

♦ Even if a huge publishing company waves large cheques at you, a smaller concern assures you of its keen editorial eye, if your brother-in-law swears your ms is error-free, invest in an professional editor/copyeditor/proofreader. If that is beyond the budget, ask fellow writers or swap favours with a teacher. Some people thrive on grammar, spelling and punctuation; others are more interested in the message behind those little black marks. If you’re one of the latter, team up with one of the former. Because there are certain things a writer cannot see.

Homophones. No, not Rick Santorum, he’s a homophobe. I’m talking about content distortion which makes you look stupid. Hmm, let me try again. Words that sound the same but look different.

Whale: large marine mammal which swallowed Jonah.

Wail: what Gwyneth Paltrow did at the Oscars. Pore/pour/paw. Peddle/pedal.

Example: I rained in my language after her rebuke. Don’t reign on my parade.

Spacing. Spaces matter. Ask John Smith who featured in ‘The Irish Times’. John Smith, the rapist, as opposed to John Smith, therapist.

Omission. The brain is hard-wired to fill in the blanks.

Thou shalt commit adultery. 1632 King James Bible. (Historical note: this omission resulted in the invention of wife-swapping, a phenomenon revived in the 1970s.)

Automatic patterns. Sticking to bibles, the cookbook cock-up: add salt and freshly ground black people. From ‘The Pasta Bible’.

Spelling. This one worries me. She could see the bugle in his pants.

Word confusion. We all do it, when the mind is concentrating on something else. Vaginal thrush is easily remedied by using a peccary. From a pharmaceutical company Powerpoint presentation.

Get expert help and aim for ‘professional’.

Don’t add to the growing heap of ‘human’ waste.

*If you found five, you’re Hawkeye. If you found more, you have a wonderful career ahead of you – do you have a business card?

 ***

JJ Marsh: writer, teacher, journalist, blogger and pug-whisperer.

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I came back exhausted from a dance weekend on Sunday evening and opened up my stats to see whether Carys Bray‘s fascinating blog had clocked up any more visits. Reader, imagine my surprise when I realised an old story of mine, The Strid, had received 677 views in two days!

At first I was worried; had someone hacked into my account and were they, at that moment, hacking into those of my contributors? It’s a horrible feeling. I asked around but no one else seemed to have experienced anything unusual.

Eventually I had the bright idea of asking one of the people who had left a message why he had come. It turned out that a site I had never seen, cracked.com, had run an article  about the five places in the world most likely to kill you, and the Strid came in at number 3. It’s an entertaining and informative piece – the pointy rocks are pretty startling – but most readers seemed to think the Strid was the scariest of all. As there is surprisingly little information about the Strid on the internet, my story came high up on a google search!

The Strid is a channel of water about seven feet wide, in itself not that impressive, until you realise that the whole of the River Wharfe has been forced into that narrow space. No one knows how deep it is, the main danger being from whirlpools that would pull the hapless adventurer into underground caverns and tunnels that have been eroded over millenia. It is said that no one comes out of the Strid alive, which is something to consider before you decide to jump the easy-peasy gap.

The Strid gave me nightmares for years before I was even allowed to see it, my parents being of nervous dispositions where their children were concerned. I wrote the story a couple of years ago for a thousand-word competition in Yorkshire Ridings Magazine and it was shortlisted and published. I’d welcome any feedback if anyone has time to read it!

The number of virtual visits now stands at 965. I would encourage everyone to visit the Strid, and the surrounding area, for themselves – it’s stunning. I would say that, of course. You can take the girl out of Yorkshire…

Creative Writing, Short Stories
and the Edge Hill Prize

I have read thirty short story collections so far this year. I’m squeezing stories into every spare moment, whizzing in and out of meticulously constructed worlds, streaming through pages of detailed observations and revelling in gorgeous metaphors. I love short stories and I usually like to savour them, however January to March 1st is the Edge Hill Prize submission period and during that time I read and review every collection that is entered.

The Edge Hill Short Story Prize was founded by writer and critic Dr. Ailsa Cox. It is the only literary prize to recognise a short story collection by a UK or Irish writer. Previous winners include Colm Toibin, Claire Keegan and Jeremy Dyson and a roll call of shortlisted authors would read like a Who’s Who of contemporary short fiction.

The 2012 entries are many and varied. I can’t name any of the books because the longlist won’t be announced until later this month, but reading them has been a fascinating task. Alongside what would traditionally be classed as ‘literary fiction’ I have read science fiction, crime stories, ghost stories, horror and humour, sometimes within the same collection. I have read stories that have given me the shivers, stories that have made me laugh and there have been a number of flawless specimens that I will never forget.

One of the beauties of the short story is its versatility, the way it can be moulded and stretched into something seminal and perfect. Writers frequently try to describe the form: Anne Enright writes that short stories are, ‘the cats of literary form; beautiful, but a little too self-contained.’ Helen Simpson has likened short stories to ‘speed boats or soft-top sports cars.’ David Sedaris maintains that a good short story takes him out of himself, only to ‘stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.’ While Haruki Murakami writes that short stories are ‘like guideposts to my heart.’

When I’m not reading short fiction, I write it. I think that the best preparation for writing is reading. My work on the Edge Hill Prize allows me to constantly reassess my own approach to short stories, to consider possibilities and redefine my literary parameters. I first worked on the prize as an intern during 2010, following the completion of my Creative Writing MA. I was considering a short story based PhD and the internship provided me with an opportunity to familiarise myself with some of the best contemporary short fiction. After I started my PhD (which has since turned into a novel) I got a part time job teaching on the first-year Fiction Module at Edge Hill. I often discuss excellent prize entries in fiction seminars, which means that my involvement with the prize also benefits my students.

In the world of publishing, short stories are a frequently neglected form. In this article, Saving Short Stories, writer and editor, Claire Massey makes an impassioned defence of the short form. 2012 has been dubbed Year of the Short Story, however reviewers at The Short Review have joked that perhaps 2012 would more appropriately be named The Year Mainstream Publishers re-Discovered What We All Knew About The Short Story Already.

Those of us working on the Edge Hill Prize believe that every year is a Year of the Short Story. Founder Ailsa Cox says, ‘In the past the short story has been considered the poor relation to the novel… The prize shows that it is possible to make a literary career out of writing short stories. The short story is dynamic and infinitely varied, and our award highlights the huge diversity of talent working in that form.’

If, like me, you love short fiction, have a look at the Edge Hill Prize longlist when it is released. Read the reviews and find a collection which appeals to you, then savour the charm and magic of the short story.

***

Carys Bray is an associate tutor at Edge Hill University. She is a co-editor at Paraxis and her short story collection Sweet Home has been shortlisted for the Scott Prize. She blogs about short stories and other things here. Watch out for the Edge Hill Prize longlist announcement later this month.

Hot and Cold

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Twitter Fiction
Tags:

Shortly after their impromptu wedding, the couple realised their irresistible mutual attraction was a consequence of solar flares, not love.

Trapeze publishes a tiny story

Posted: March 7, 2012 in News
Tags:

I’d forgotten I’d had some stories accepted by Trapeze late last year. The first of these has been published today. I called it ‘Final Reading’. If you enjoy it, please vote!

Therapeutic Writing

A pen and paper has always been my confidante of choice. Even as a teenager, writing down my unhappy, anxious or angry thoughts and feelings was something I did instinctively; either in letter form or scribbled on a random piece of paper. Once out, the painful words and unbearable emotions stopped having any power over me; usually instantly, but if not then, always later. And when the emotion was spent, I threw it away. Nobody told me to do this; writing was automatic and has always worked as a pressure valve in my life.

A few years ago I came across a newspaper article about happiness. The section which grabbed my interest described an experiment which involved 4 groups of volunteers writing a list of things every night.

Group A wrote at least five things for which they were grateful

Group B wrote at least five hassles in their lives

Group C wrote five things they were better at than others, and

Group D wrote five major events in their lives.

Volunteers were closely monitored for a variety of personal, mental, physical and emotional changes, and at the end of the experiment Groups B,C & D exhibited very few changes, while Group A showed evidence of increased well-being in all areas; they felt better about life, had greater levels of optimism, fewer physical symptoms, they helped others more and were more likely to achieve their goals. (Tal Ben-Shahaar, “Cheer Up. Here’s how…” The Guardian, December 29th 2007)

Writing down the good things about my life was a new concept for me, because my personal outpourings had only ever been of the blood letting kind, but I thought I would give it a go. As soon as I started, I realised that there were many things in my life I had to be grateful for and every time I thought about it, I was happier. I spent my days looking for things to write. Some days I wrote more than five. Other days I struggled to find a single original thing. But after a while I realised it didn’t matter; every day I was and still am grateful for the same things and new ones too.

From this was born my interest in the whole world of therapeutic writing and its power as a tool for personal awareness, development and improvement.

Writing about difficult, confusing and unwanted emotions is useful because when you write you have the opportunity to see thoughts and feelings as something outside of yourself; they become something tangible to be viewed objectively. Once you can see and feel things outside of yourself you can understand them better, adapt them and feed back positive, more beneficial thoughts and feelings. You get to manage your emotional states and because you decide how, you inevitably end up feeling empowered and consequently happier.

Writing about positive and beneficial emotions works in the same way, except that usually these emotions and thoughts are reinforced and strengthened by their tangibility. Give it a go now – write down five (or ten, or twenty…) things about your life which are good and see if you don’t end up feeling better because of it.

Writing things down is effective because words are very powerful; they are an outward expression of what you are thinking. It is your thoughts which create your emotions, and your emotions which determine (on an unconscious level) how you act or behave.

Think   —   Feel   —   Do

The words you use have a unique and personal resonance deep inside of yourself.

For example, take the word POWER. What does it mean to you? Does it have good associations or negative ones? Do you love to have power? Do you respect power? Do you fear power? Do you feel the need to rebel when confronted with power? It’s just a word, but as with all words (to a greater or lesser extent) it will have a dictionary meaning and a personal meaning you may not even be aware of.

By being aware of the emotional connections that words have, you have the choice to use them or not use them, or alter the way they make you feel. By paying attention to the words you use, you can literally change your life.

Writing can help you to

  • organise and understand your thoughts
  • identify and express emotions
  • reduce stress and anxiety instantly
  • think about what is important to you
  • adapt and change your thoughts and emotions,
  • create new positive thoughts and emotions
  • raise self awareness and know the real you
  • change your behaviour
  • boost your self esteem
  • fix goals firmly in your sights
  • feel calmer, clearer and more relaxed
  • and be creative

The beauty of writing is that you are accountable only to yourself and can do it at any time and any place to suit you. What’s more, it’s private, cheap and you can do it with the minimum of a pen and a piece of paper. It is like having a friend to talk to.

If you’d like to try some therapeutic writing exercises, please contact me through my website.

***

Wendy Storer has completed two novels for children, not completed several more, and is currently half way through another which she is sure will get finished. She is an ex primary teacher, ex hypnotherapist and ex lots of other things. She has a diploma in Creative Writing Therapy, two large black labradoodles and a soft spot for anyone who can make her laugh.

You can find out more about Wendy on her website, read her blog, follow her on progress on facebook, or twitter @wendystorer