Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Words, language and change.

Words, language, change. I’m a lover of the first two and I understand that the third happens, though along with many people I’m not keen on it, and I’m especially averse to change for the sake of change alone.

In George Orwell’s 1984 he took a lot of care explaining how newspeak, a state controlled way of using language, could be used to control the minds of the populace, but even so, I feel that the populace is not always best placed to make their own language changes. Lately I’ve found myself asking “Can I get a cup of…” when I blatantly should be saying “May I have a cup of …” and even the awful extra use of the word ‘get’ to mean ‘understand’ as in “I don’t get what you are saying”.
And here I will point out you do indeed ‘get’ what I’m saying, because unless you are deaf the sound waves of my speech have reached your ears, it’s translating those sounds into meaning that you are struggling with.

The silly thing is that some words seem to happily move onto a new meaning without rousing my ire. I’m cool with wicked meaning good (and with cool meaning ….well, cool) I don’t mind brilliant no longer referring to light, or with fantastic no longer referring to fantasy. Even celebrity, though I have never celebrated any of them.

But some things make me silently cry inside. I cannot stand silently by and listen to the use of ‘literally’ used to just add emphasis, where people are speaking metaphorically. As in “I literally died!” “I literally peed myself”

I don’t like the new trend of using perfectly fine nouns as verbs. When did athletes stop winning medals and begin ‘medalling’. This morning on Radio 4 a man referred to someone (presumably having been killed by an armed drone) as having been “droned by the Americans”. Did this all start with Google and Instagram and Facebook? Is the internet to blame (do ‘inbox me’ to let me know).

Top of my current loathe list, however, are the phrases “me time” which in reality means, some time to do what I want to do, and sounds both pretentious and selfish simultaneously in my opinion. And the frankly horrendous “hack” specifically (but not restricted to) “Life Hack”. Hack, even in computer speak means to break something, to chop and damage. What on earth is a Life Hack anyway? Usually the word hack is replacing the perfectly serviceable word “idea”. So here’s a hack for you. Speak English, and people that also speak English will then be able to understand you without resorting to looking up your words and phrases on an online urban dictionary.

Much love
Grumpy TM

PS do add any of your own pet hates in the comments below.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Is it OK to like the baddies?

From Maleficent, Tom in Tom and Jerry, Captain Hook, and even Peter Pan (in the original book) right through to the dark and twisted fictional characters like Dexter and Christian Grey we seem to revel in a bit of 'baddie love'.

Is it OK to love a baddie? Do we always have to be rooting for the good guy and must the white hats always triumph for a story to be 'right'? Do we need happy endings?

For a long while I've felt that children's fairy tales are designed to be dark and scary and I've blogged about specific stories before. Fairy tales help children to manage difficult situations in the relative safety of a book (don't tel Bastion in the Never Ending Story of course, he may disagree about the safety aspect). Children deal with the loss of parents (almost all fairy stories pit lone children against monsters - you can't blame Disney for this one), fear of survival, they learn about rules and the consequences of keeping or breaking them, the same with promises. Children see huge and evil things defeated and while they can have nightmares about monsters in the dark they can also learn of the selflessness of love and the strength of truth.

Does adult fiction follow a similar vein? Are we able to look into the dark and deal with it rather than live its horror if we read dark and terrifying books. Having read a few dark stories I often emerge feeling glad I'm not trapped there in the pages of the novel. But sometimes I might admire the 'baddie'; sometimes it feels good to see someone stretch outside of the confines of the rules and do what we might all like to do...but daren't.

Have you watched Fargo and wanted someone dead? Have you cheered a villain? Am I unusual or is this extra step one that helps us deal with the mundane and the ordinary. Does empathy with a bad guy sometimes help us to stay good? Could it be that James Bond, sneering, rich, and deadly, can help us live gentler lives purely because in our minds we can cheer for him, just for a second, before popping the veg on to boil and waiting for the children to wash their hands for tea.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wordy Wednesday with Amanda Jennings

I'm probably not allowed a favourite among the fantastic authors that have agreed to answer my questions, and to be fair they all are rather fabulous, but for boob squishing hugs Amanda is in the lead so far!

She has written several excellent books which I have managed to find time to read - not least because I stupidly started them and then they were impossible to put down. First I read was Sworn Secret and I loved it! Next was The Judas Scar darker, but as enjoyable.

The Judas Scar tells the story of two men who meet again, apparently by chance, for the first time in twenty five years. Both had difficult childhoods but found solace in their friendship, until the horrific events of one afternoon at school tore them apart and marked both for life. When they are reunited, buried secrets, guilt and anger are unearthed, and it slowly becomes clear that one of them has revenge on his mind...
And now the questions!

When did you start writing?

I've always written stories. I was one of those children who used to make books out of folded paper, staples and felt tip pens. But though I was pretty good at school, spelling and grammar weren't my strong points, so although my stories would come back with complimentary comments about my ideas and imagination, they would also be covered in red pen! I ended up studying Architecture at university, but it soon became apparent that it wasn't for me and after my first year I changed to History of Art! For this degree I had to research and write a 30,000 word dissertation, and this reminded me how much I loved to write. I had my first baby and then went to work in television but I missed her dreadfully, so when a script I'd written for a BBC talent scheme was shortlisted to the final eight, I made the decision to give up work to be with her and write. I wrote in any spare moment I could find, it kept me sane and gave me something other than the laundry to  do. Basically, I wrote so I could ignore the housework! cunning!

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?

Tea (at least six cups), Twitter (for welcome breaks), and Saffie, my dog (dog walking is essential for fresh air, exercise and allowing my mind to wander over plot lines and characters. I also need her to talk to as writing can be a lonely old business.)

Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes?

I need to be fairly rigid in my schedule. I'm taking a few weeks off at the moment as I've just finished a book and it's good to have a break. Then there will be a period where I'm jotting thoughts and scenes and character ideas down in notebooks throughout the day, and often the night as well. But then once I start the first draft of my next book I will write every day, generally after I've walked Saffie and loaded the dishwasher. I try and do 1500 words a day. Some days this is easy and I can hit that target in no time, others it can be like blood from a stone and each word will feel painful. But writing requires discipline. Nobody finds it easy, and if I waited for my muse, I imagine I'd never write. My muse is a bit idle, to be honest.

What are your favourite biscuits?

My favourite biscuit used to be a custard cream. But as I've grown older I think I've moved away from the mighty custard cream. I think I'd choose something fancy now, like a stem ginger biscuit dipped in dark chocolate. But I wouldn't buy either of these biscuits as I would eat them all in one go. I have to buy Mint Clubs because the children love them and I don't, which means they have a fighting chance of actually being able to eat them before I do. Ooh I love Club biscuits, remind me to visit...

Where do you do most of your writing?

I have a study, with a window overlooking the garden - vital for window-staring. Writers, without doubt, do more staring out of windows than any other profession - and my dog's bed beneath my desk.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I am reading Snow Blind by Ragnar Jonasson, who was wonderful to listen to, and the book is brilliant. I saw him on a panel at Crimefest, an annual crime writers' convention in Bristol, and he spoke so beautifully about Iceland and this small village cut off from the rest of the country by heavy snowfall, where nasty things begin happening to the inhabitants. The book is translated by Quentin Bates, who is a lovely man as well.

Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore?

Yes, I use all of the above, and have even signed up to Periscope, the new video sharing platform, and have just started using Pinterest as well. I love social media. I don't use it specifically to sell books, though I will often share exciting news or lovely reviews. But the 'buy my book, buy my book' thing is too pushy for me; I'm the type of person who runs out of shops if a shop assistant starts to approach me. Social media is an amazing way to engage with readers and other writers. I've met so many wonderful writers through Twitter, many of whom are now dear friends and provide a valuable support network. Likewise with readers and book bloggers. Many I've met in real life and I now count as friends. I reply to every tweet or Facebook comment made to me, and will often happily sit at my desk and natter away to people for hours. 

I'm very true to my online persona. I don't believe in creating some false idea of myself. If I'm tweeting about swapping Tunnock's Tea Cakes for my supper, that's because I have. The way I see it, if someone enjoys my company on social media they might well check out my books, if they then think the book looks interesting or the reviews entice them, they can decide whether or not to read it. I don't write to sell books, I write because I love writing and I love the idea of readers enjoying my stories. If I happen to sell books at the same time, then great, but it's not the be all and end all.
Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?

I do have a kindle, but I passed it down to my middle daughter who reads far too quickly and as many books as she can, so it suits her as she can have hundreds of books at her fingertips. I just didn't take to reading books in digital format. I like the weight and feel of books. I also like the smell of them. I spend so much of my time looking at computer screens or my phone screen that paper is a welcome relief!

Do you dream in colour?

Well, that's an interesting question. I'm not sure, but my instinct is to say yes. I LOVE dreaming. When I've had one of those dreams that you think are real, and you feel fear or desire or love or sadness, I wake up feeling energised. Sometimes, with a particularly good dream, I'll lie there after waking and try hard to get back to it. So, I'm going to say yes, I dream in colour, with surround sound and 3-d special effects, too. I hope I dream tonight, now!

If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?

Campaign for reading and writing to be legalised? Or set up an animal rescue centre? Or work for a children's charity? Or maybe act or paint? Or go into politics? Or be a chef... There are lots of things I would do and lots of things I'd still like to do. Life is a one-way adventure and the more you can cram into it the better.

What is your ideal holiday? 

I am a skiing freak, so it would be that. Up a mountain with my family, the sun glinting off the snow, navy skies, a slope with half a metre of fresh powder and a bottle of wine, a roaring fire and a good book waiting for me at the end of the day. Perfect.

Fabulous answers, and can't wait to read the new book (though I'll have to, as being such an author groupie I seem to gather books faster than I can read them!)

Check out all about Amanda's latest books on her website, follow her on Twitter and Goodreads

Wordy Wednesday

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Archers Drinking Game

Rob! (Poor Helen)
It's been a while since we had a drinking game. I'm currently in a tent, blogging via a mobile phone (so excuse and weird autocorrects that I miss!) and I will miss the Archers omnibus today. So I thought I'd make a drinking game instead.

I'll probably tweak it when I get back to the laptop, so do let me know your ideas in the comments section below. Thanks.

And now the rules. This game may be played with alcohol, a cup of tea, or mouthfuls of seed cake as required.

Take a drink, or mouthful of cake whenever the following occur :

  • Rob tells Helen what to do
  • A cow moos
  • Ruth says Daaaaaaaaviiiiid in a drawn out and whiney way
  • Jill makes some tea... Or a cake... Or cooks anyone anyone anything really
  • Anyone says anything that, taken out of context, is rude
  • One of the Grundys mentions ferrets
  • Kenton blames someone else for something that's his fault
  • Lillian (or Kenton) has an alcoholic drink
  • Kate flirts
  • Kate mentions chakras
  • Lynda Snell sniffs disapproving.

Don't choke on your cake. Let me know how it goes.

(Picture credit to the truely awesome Plarchers on twitter)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wordy Wednesday - with Rob Grimes

Ooh a cheeky new one for you all this week, a good twitter friend of mine (I hope he doesn't mind me claiming him as a friend) someone who's blog I enjoy reading (check it out here) and general all round odd nice chap.

Allow me to welcome Rob Grimes, author of Child of Air (which Rob sent me a copy of and is on my HUGE 'to read' pile - sorry for the slow response Rob!) Find out more about Rob's writing at GoodReads 

And now for the interrogation!

Rob, When did you start writing?

I've been writing 'proper' factual things for about 20 years. I've written a huge number of dry, boring, IT software manuals and procedures for various employers. But I'd say that the thing that really gave me my start was pirating computer games software in the late 1980s - Back in those days you'd be presented with a grubby 3 1/2 inch floppy disc with the name of the game scribbled on it in crayon and that's about it.  But I always took the time to play the games and work out what all the keys were.  I'd maybe even give my own opinion of tricks and tactics - All printed out on music-ruled paper on a third-hand Epson dot matrix printer that was constantly running out of ink on the ribbon.  Even then, customer service was my watchword... (ah floppy discs, you are talking my language!)

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?

Oh, now that's easy - 

1) Silence - I have the concentration levels of a fruitfly at the best of times, it takes the tiniest thing to completely derail my train of thought.
2) Snacks - I need to have access to various kinds of provender and comestibles.  I probably won't actually eat any of them, but it's kind of a literary safety-net - I can't start a new chapter unless there are at least emergency Cornettos in the freezer.  Unless I have pork pies of course... I can't not eat pork pies. (with pickle I hope...)
3) Good Weather - I'm a Martyr to temporary writer's block.  But a brisk walk down the canal path to the local pub does wonders for my creative juices.  It's just not the same if I have to find an umbrella and galoshes before I leave.

Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes?

When I'm writing the first draft of a manuscript, I write whenever I think of something - Which is why the 108,000 words of  'Child of Air' has taken just over two years so far.  When I'm editing however, I need to force myself to do it.  Moreso with my own stuff than with the things I edit for other writers - It's easy with other people's writing, it's a job... Something I've said that I'll do.  But the only person that I'm letting down by being lazy with my own writing is myself - And I forgive myself because I'm such a great guy.  It doesn't help that I usually have a couple of things on the go at once.  I should procrastinate less, but there's always something else that needs writing, or replying to, or sticking back together (I have two children). (you have to stick your children together?!)

Is writing your main source of income, I read lots of articles saying writers make no money, and my readers asked this question a lot! Can you survive on book writing alone? if not, what else do you do?

I wish it was! - I'd love nothing more than to be able to sit under a palm tree, listening to the azure waves breaking over the warm golden sands whilst a selection of dusky maidens keep me supplied with Mai-Tais.   Sadly, my reality is not quite like that.  I have a day job (I'm currently the IT Manager for an International Hairdressing company) that keeps me fairly busy before I even start to think about writing anything. From what I can gather from other people who call themselves writers (or authors) to make any sort of money you have to keep plugging away like your very life depended on it.  Which, in a way, it does if it's your only source of income. The other things you need are luck in huge amounts - and I can't stress that enough - You could write this century's 'Pride & Prejudice' but if you send it to a publisher on spec and the person who especially likes historical drama happens to have a hangover that day, it'll go straight in the bin, do not pass the slush pile, do not collect £200,000. You'll also need someone to handle your advertising (Because if people don't know your books exist, they can't buy them) which usually means a publisher or an agent - I'm all for self-publishing, my previous books were all self-published and it's really great if you get it right - You get to keep more of the profit.  It's just that it's so easy to get wrong.  Which is fine if you just want to get a book out there on Amazon.  But if you're in it for the fame and fortune, you'd be better off partnering with someone who knew their stuff. Great answer - see some of my previous author interviews for the azure seas! but yes, writing and more writing does seem to be the key, thick skins as well as talent seem to be a requisite!

What are your favourite biscuits?

Pretty much anything that's half covered with chocolate... Probably Hobnobs

Where do you do most of your writing?

At my desk at work.  I'd love to say that I write during breaks and at lunchtime... But it's pretty much whenever I can squeeze some time in. I'll have a copy of 'Word' open with my manuscript in it open all the time and I'll plug away when I can. Mostly during conference calls. Sneaky!

What book are you reading at the moment?

Now, there's a question... I usually read about half a dozen books at the same time.  At the moment I'm mostly reading 'Flaming Zeppelins (The adventures of Ned the Seal)' by Joe R. Lansdale.  A couple of Warhammer 40,000 books by Dan Abnett and Ben Counter - Their exact titles escape me, but they probably have words like 'Heresy' and 'Gothic' in them. And finally, 'Look who's back' by Timur Vermes, which is about Adolf Hitler being transported to the modern day and becoming a media sensation.

Do you use social media (facebook, twitter, instagram etc) to engage with your audience, do you think it helps sales and do you find it fun or a chore?

Most certainly.  Social media is one of the most powerful tools that a writer can lay their hands on.  There's no other way that you can talk to so many potential readers without somehow collecting their email addresses.  I love interacting with my audience, they often say nice things.  In fact, I'm thinking of setting up a website for the new book (which is the first volume in a trilogy) where each of the major characters will have their own email address. You can ask them questions, and given a following wind, they'll reply to you - in character.  In fact, I'd be interested in what your readers thought about that idea.(answers in the comments below please!)

Do you own an e-reader? and do you prefer to read digital or paper copy?

I own a couple of Kindles (Which aren't just what South African kids have on their Birthday Cakes) , and they're great for taking on holiday where you can just throw them in a bag and take 100 books with you to the beach or in a tent.  But I prefer paper most of the time, it feels more alive - And it smells a lot better.

Do you dream in colour?

Yes I do.  And oddly, despite the fact that I own, and ride a motorcycle in real life - I have never dreamed a motorcycle in any of my dreams.  I have dreamed about riding a motorcycle, but I've always been suspended in the air with my body in the position of someone riding a motorcycle, but without the actual conveyance - It's very odd, I'm sure Freud would have a field day. ... I actually dreamed about Freud the other day, but that's a whole other story

If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?

Blimey! Well, firstly I'd have a good cry - Then I'd fall back on pretty much what any red-blooded male would fill his day with given the choice, the mighty triptych of TV, computer games and self-love. Nice

What is your ideal holiday?

Sadly, I'm not a great one for holidays - Which is a source of constant irritation to the rest of my immediate family - I only have two default states, which are 'Busy' and 'vegetative' with little leeway in-between. I guess, if I were to be pushed, it would be a cabin, somewhere in the world with a huge sky and where the horizon was a bloody long way away.  With comfortable beds and High Speed Broadband.

What's the nastiest thing you've ever eaten?

There are two answers to this, depending what you mean by nastiest.  The first would be a fish-pie cooked by the ex-girlfriend of my Brother-in-law. Who cooked it purely from a picture she'd seen with no real understanding of the ingredients involved.  The topping specifically was particularly terrible, instead of the more usual breadcrumb, cheese & parsley crumble.. She used crushed cornflakes... and the second? curious readers NEED to know!
Thanks Rob for taking the time to answer my odd questions, all the best with Child of Air.
 hugely different from my last three books as this is a real novel about things that happen 500 years in the future - And it may even be loosely based on my friends and family - They do say you should write what you know, don't they?
Thanks for reading, do let me know what you think of Robs idea about a character website!
Check out Rob on Goodreads or follow his adventure on twitter

Buy his books on Amazon
Wordy Wednesday

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