Friday, 31 December 2010

Year's end

All over the world, people are wondering where on earth 2010 went, and I'm no exception. Another New Year's Eve? Doesn't seem possible - surely it's at least three months too soon!

All the same, it's been quite a year, and for me, another year of change. The book I started writing last June  was published this September in the UK, and just this month in the USA. I have a story in the current issue of  Out of the Gutter (which means my year has been topped and tailed with stories in OOTG, as I had a piece in the last one, too) and I currently have a wee festive flash over at Do Some Damage. My story The Black Dog was one of three selected as winners in a ghost story writing competition run by the Lit and Phil in Newcastle. I'm currently working on a rough draft of the novel I mostly wrote during NaNoWriMo to get it up to scratch for submission. Prompted by Paul Brazill's  interview and egged on by others, I established this blog and my story blog. I have a nice bit of freelance work to see me out of this year and into next.

As well as writing, I picked up jewellery making again. I opened a little shop on Folksy and started going to craft fairs to sell my creations. Those two things - writing and crafting - will come together at the Maker's Market craft fairs next month, in an exciting and innovative initiative I'll be blogging about very, very soon. Which leads me to another thing - I've met some amazing people this year, for which I am extremely grateful.

There have, of course, been disappointments, things which didn't work out as hoped and planned, but whilst I aim to learn from them, I don't intend to dwell on them. Rather, I'm working out what needs to happen in 2011 to keep things moving forward. I don't have a shortage of plans and ideas, I just need to get things into some sort of order.

So, as we each look back and reflect on 2010, and look forward and speculate on what 2011 might bring, let's raise a glass. I don't think next year is likely to be an easy one for most of us, but that doesn't mean it has to be a bad one. My year will, whether 'successful' or not, undoubtedly involve yet more change. Whatever you are planning, hoping for or aiming to achieve, I wish you the very best of luck. Cheers!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Opportunity knocks

As all you budding writers out there will know, most publishers will only accept submissions via a literary agent, and finding an agent is not necessarily any easier than finding a publisher. Angry Robot are taking a brave step and opening their doors in March 2011 to unrepresented writers. They promise that all subs will be read - and I suspect there will be many! While that may sound like a lot of competition, it's a fabulous opportunity for those of us who are unagented to get our work looked at. Check out their submissions page,  too - full of good advice.

Angry Robot are looking for adult novels that fall under the following genre headings: fantasy, science fiction, horror, and urban or modern fantasy.These may be broadly interpreted, however, as you will see from their guidelines.

I've got a couple of novels, complete, but currently at rough draft stage, that may well fit the bill. Assuming I get one or other of them to the required standard in time, I'll be chucking my hat in the ring and having a bash at this. Be nice to have some company!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Just when you thought...

...the government couldn't sink any lower, this happens. Booktrust, whose strapline is 'Inspiring a lifelong love of books for all' and which aims to provide free books to children at strategic points in their lives, has had 100 per cent of its funding (in England) taken away from next April. As a mate of mine observed, 'When you're taking books off babies you've really lost your moral compass'. Hard to argue with that.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Festive tales!!!

There's a Christmas themed noir flash thing going on over at Do Some Damage. At the time of writing the first three are up, and stories will be posted at regular intervals until early January. Enjoy!

Free books!!!

Those nice people at Caffeine Nights are getting into the spirit of giving with this offer of free books. Go get 'em!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Creative writing course

There are lots of creative writing courses on offer, but this is the first to be offered by a literary agency. Curtis Brown are taking a pro-active approach to finding new talent. At some £1,600 a go, it's not a cheap option, and since the weekly classes are to be held at Curtis Brown's offices, students will have to live in or within reasonable travelling distance of London. However, with the additional carrot of representation for the most promising students, it is likely to prove to be popular. It'll be interesting to see how it all pans out!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Fantastic news!

I heard some great news the other day about a mate of mine, Ian Ayris. He's a cracking wrtiter, and those nice, perceptive and insightful people at Caffeine Nights have snapped up his debut novel,  ABIDE WITH ME. I've read some excerpts and I totally understand why they did. Now I can hardly wait to read the book, which will be out next year.

So, massive congratulations to Ian; his success is very well deserved indeed! :)

And if you can't wait to read something by Ian, his story BY THE DIM AND FLARING LAMPS is up at Beat to a Pulp. Stunning stuff!

Monday, 29 November 2010

I did it!

Won NaNoWriMo, that is. I'm probably about two-thirds of the way through the draft, I know there are holes to be plugged and further research to be conducted to verify (or otherwise!) some of the assumptions I've made in order to keep the story moving forward. I've met some characters I didn't know would be in there and some things have happened that were unexpected - but which, from a narrative point of view, are good. I've changed the title once and very likely will again. And once the draft is complete - I'm aiming to keep the momentum going and wrap it up in a couple of weeks - I'll start again at the beginning, fixing stuff.

It's been great fun doing this, I got the same buzz as I did last time I did it (in 2006). And - just as I did then - I had to cut things out of my usual routine to make room for it. Some of those things I'm looking forward to picking up again, others I haven't missed as much as I feared I might, and so they will go for good (or at least for now - never say never!).

Anyway, the work continues. I'm really looking forward to finishing the draft and having a new novel - albeit it a flawed one - to read and to start to polish. And, if I feel it's good enough, early in the new year I'll be looking for a home for it. Fingers crossed! But for now, I'm basking in the glow that comes from having achieved what I set out to do four weeks ago - write 50,000 words of a new novel. :D

Monday, 22 November 2010

I'm not a musician, but...

I really like this. I reckon there's a lot of stuff in there that could just as easily apply to writers. I know a fair few writers - and there are undoubtedly more that I don't know of - who are using online sites to get their stuff out there and build up a readership. I've heard criticism aimed at those of us who give stories away for free, but I think it's unfounded. Everything is changing. The traditional publisher/agent/writer model is being challenged and is beginning to evolve. The quality of work on some of the online sites - A Twist of Noir, Thrillers, Killers and Chillers and Radgepacket Online to name just three - is very high, and they are also read by agents and publishers, for those who are looking for new ways to be noticed as a stepping stone to a traditional deal.

I also like this, which I just found out about today. Very cool.

Notes: 1) When I say I'm not a musician but... what I mean is I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. (Then again, I seem to remember the awesome and deeply missed Mr Ronnie James Dio said the same about Ozzy Osbourne. Although compared to RJD, most people fall short. (No pun intended.))

2) Thanks to Daniel Hatadi, from whom I pinched the Trent Reznor link. (Daniel is a musician, and does not need a bucket to carry a tune. He writes a mean tale, too.)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

NaNoWriMo: keeping going

NaNoWriMo is challenging, without doubt. The trick is to push on regardless, to accept that what you are getting into the machine is a rough first draft, not something you'll be punting to an agent or publisher come December first. The NaNoPeeps understand this and they give participants all the help they can, including regular pep talks. I got this one, written by Holly Black, today and I found it extremely useful. Check it out, if you've a mind.

NaNoWriMo word count: 3706

Soon be Christmas!

Alarming but true ... and for those of you with proper jobs and regular salaries, just one or two paydays to go! So what better gift than a staple of most people's childhood: a book token. Go on - you know it makes sense! You can even buy a bookmark to go with it, if you like. (If you don't like that one, there are more in the shop, and yet more to go up over the next week or so.) Happy shopping!

NaNoWriMo word count: 34038

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Lest we forget...

A Terre

Wilfred Owen

(Being the philosophy of many Soldiers.)

Sit on the bed; I'm blind, and three parts shell,
Be careful; can't shake hands now; never shall.
Both arms have mutinied against me -- brutes.
My fingers fidget like ten idle brats.

I tried to peg out soldierly -- no use!
One dies of war like any old disease.
This bandage feels like pennies on my eyes.
I have my medals? -- Discs to make eyes close.
My glorious ribbons? -- Ripped from my own back
In scarlet shreds. (That's for your poetry book.)

A short life and a merry one, my brick!
We used to say we'd hate to live dead old, --
Yet now . . . I'd willingly be puffy, bald,
And patriotic. Buffers catch from boys
At least the jokes hurled at them. I suppose
Little I'd ever teach a son, but hitting,
Shooting, war, hunting, all the arts of hurting.
Well, that's what I learnt, -- that, and making money.
Your fifty years ahead seem none too many?
Tell me how long I've got? God! For one year
To help myself to nothing more than air!
One Spring! Is one too good to spare, too long?
Spring wind would work its own way to my lung,
And grow me legs as quick as lilac-shoots.
My servant's lamed, but listen how he shouts!
When I'm lugged out, he'll still be good for that.
Here in this mummy-case, you know, I've thought
How well I might have swept his floors for ever,
I'd ask no night off when the bustle's over,
Enjoying so the dirt. Who's prejudiced
Against a grimed hand when his own's quite dust,
Less live than specks that in the sun-shafts turn,
Less warm than dust that mixes with arms' tan?
I'd love to be a sweep, now, black as Town,
Yes, or a muckman. Must I be his load?

O Life, Life, let me breathe, -- a dug-out rat!
Not worse than ours the existences rats lead --
Nosing along at night down some safe vat,
They find a shell-proof home before they rot.
Dead men may envy living mites in cheese,
Or good germs even. Microbes have their joys,
And subdivide, and never come to death,
Certainly flowers have the easiest time on earth.
"I shall be one with nature, herb, and stone."
Shelley would tell me. Shelley would be stunned;
The dullest Tommy hugs that fancy now.
"Pushing up daisies," is their creed, you know.
To grain, then, go my fat, to buds my sap,
For all the usefulness there is in soap.
D'you think the Boche will ever stew man-soup?
Some day, no doubt, if . . .
Friend, be very sure
I shall be better off with plants that share
More peaceably the meadow and the shower.
Soft rains will touch me, -- as they could touch once,
And nothing but the sun shall make me ware.
Your guns may crash around me. I'll not hear;
Or, if I wince, I shall not know I wince.
Don't take my soul's poor comfort for your jest.
Soldiers may grow a soul when turned to fronds,
But here the thing's best left at home with friends.

My soul's a little grief, grappling your chest,
To climb your throat on sobs; easily chased
On other sighs and wiped by fresher winds.

Carry my crying spirit till it's weaned
To do without what blood remained these wounds.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The vagaries of the English language

I was sent this today and I thought it was worth sharing - see what you think!

Do you know why foreigners have trouble with the English Language?

It’s strange!

Let’s face it
English is a stupid language.
There is no egg in the eggplant
No ham in the hamburger
And neither pine nor apple in the pineapple.
English muffins were not invented in England
French fries were not invented in France.

We sometimes take English for granted
But if we examine its paradoxes we find that
Quicksand takes you down slowly
Boxing rings are square
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

If writers write, how come fingers don’t fing.
If the plural of tooth is teeth
Shouldn’t the plural of phone booth be phone beeth
If the teacher taught,
Why didn’t the preacher praught.

If a vegetarian eats vegetables
What the heck does a humanitarian eat!?
Why do people recite at a play
Yet play at a recital?
Park on driveways and
Drive on parkways

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy
Of a language where a house can burn up as
It burns down
And in which you fill in a form
By filling it out
And a bell is only heard once it goes!

English was invented by people, not computers
And it reflects the creativity of the human race
(Which of course isn’t a race at all)

That is why
When the stars are out they are visible
But when the lights are out they are invisible
And why it is that when I wind up my watch
It starts
But when I wind up this observation,
It ends.

I'm not sure where this originated, hence no attribution, but if you should happen to know, tell me and I'll be happy to include it.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

E-books price fixing accusation

It seems that the publishing industry has learned nothing from the woes of the music industry with regard to downloads. The Bookseller reports of customer anger at the high prices some publishers are charging for e-books, with the pubishers concerned being accused of 'greediness'.

We all know publishing is a business - that's a given. Also, publishers have to not only cover costs, but make a profit. To me, however, this charging practice looks likely to backfire badly. At one end of the spectrum, readers appear to be being charged an unrerasonable amount for a download, and at the other, debate rages about an author's royalty on an electronic product. The Society of Authors recommends that a writer's share should be in the region of 45 per cent, rather than the standard book royalty of 10 per cent, due to the huge reduction in direct costs. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that this is far from the case, with writers having to battle for every extra percentage point.

With pressure from both ends, as it were, something has surely got to give. With customers able to choose to purchase only those 'fairly' priced books (or download books for free - even some of my titles are available as illegal downloads, never mind those of best-selling fiction authors) and writers able to choose to e-publish privately, mainstream publishers following this or a similar policy may find themselves out in the cold!

Monday, 1 November 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 1

Working title is Annie, first day word count 2075. Well pleased! If I can only repeat this another 29 times, I've got this thing cracked!

Seriously, I won't be updating about this every day, but I am delighted to have got off to such a good start. If I learned two things last time I did this, they were:

1) don't fall behind on word count, and,

2) keep going, no matter what! You can always fix things later: for now, concentrate on getting the story into the machine!

Right, cup of tea and bed. (Or hang on fifteen minutes and get a head start on tomorrow's word count!)


And so, it begins. I'll post updates as the month goes on, but so far I've been moving backwards. My planning is okay, my writing can now begin, but I had a title (Pray) that I have decided isn't appropriate for the story I intend to write.

So, no title, no net - can't wait to jump in!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Literature, in bite-size portions

Penguin has the perfect solution for those busy people without the time to read a full length novel - bite-size tales! I remember the last initiative - little, orange-spined books that opened up new worlds, certainly for me. I still have a batch of them on my bookshelf, including works by Patricia Highsmith, Saki and Virginia Woolf.

Of course, if you like your fiction short but don't fancy anything that could be defined as 'literary', you could do worse than checking out Byker Books' Radgepacket series, Pulp Press's novellas, or Legend Press's short story collections. Enjoy!

Friday, 22 October 2010

PLR update

News from the Society of Authors:

'As part of the cuts to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, it has been announced that there will be reductions to the PLR fund. However, these cuts are not as severe as  anticipated. 

The annual figures have been announced as follows:

2010/11    £7.45m

2011/12    £7.218m
2012/13    £7.084m
2013/14    £6.977m
2014/15    £6.956m

There will thus be a reduction of 6.6% over the next four years, although the fall in real terms will be significantly bigger. 

Whilst any cuts are to be regretted, it does appear that support for the Public Lending Right scheme has been taken on board by the DCMS, and the cuts kept to a minimum, especially in comparison with the overall Department cuts of 25%...'

So, it could have been worse. But we're not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination: the battle to preserve the current PLR body goes on.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Cuts, cuts and more cuts

Along with all the concerns about PLRlibrary cuts are also being announced. In the light of cuts that are being made to child benefit and housing, this might seem a lightweight issue, but it is a very disurbing one. If libraries buy fewer books and are open for fewer hours, and cuts are made to PLR, then money will be taken directly out of writers' pockets. With most of us having to do other things to supplement our income from writing anyway, this is bad news indeed.

I wonder if the root of the problem might be that since the writers that make the headlines tend to be those that make huge amounts of money, there is a public perception that writing is a well-paid job. In fact, research commissioned by the soon-to-be-defunct Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) shows that the top 10% of writers earn more than half the total pot. Only 20% of authors earn their living solely from writing, and a typical professional writer earns around one third less than the national average wage. (I aspire to earning that much!!!)

Then there's the subject of books. Books aren't a luxury, in my opinion, they are a necessity. Writers help us to make sense of the world we live in, they take global issues and distil them into personal experiences that we can relate to, they take us to other countries - other worlds, in some cases - and broaden our horizons, they enrich our lives immeasureably. Then there is the fact that those of us who read tend to use language better, whether written or spoken. Readers get a feel for words that those who don't read cannot possibly experience. And when so many other things are being cut and money is tight, people can't afford to buy as many - if indeed any - books themselves and arguably would rely on their public library more than ever before!

I can't help but wonder how those people making the decisions, with their position of wealth and privilege, can understand what they actually mean for the rest of us. I shouldn't think any one of them has to pause with his or her hand halfway towards a book - or a pair of shoes, or a bottle of wine - and think: 'No, I can't afford that now'. Maybe they should commission a writer to take these national issues and distil them into personal experiences: perhaps then they'd get a handle on just how destructive they are being!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


November heralds the start of another round of NaNoWriMo - that being National Novel Writing Month. Writing begins on the 1st, and the aim is to create a 175 page/50,000 word novel by midnight on the 30th. No writing is allowed beforehand - but you can plan, and I aim to. Because I have signed up to do it this year!

I successfully completed NaNoWriMo in 2006, and then let my rough, badly-in-need-of-an-edit and in-possession-of-several-gaps novel rot in peace, which was a waste. It needs resurrecting - the idea is still sound, I think.

In 2006, I dove straight in with nothing more than a premise. This year, though, I want to go in prepared. I won't write a word of the book before November, but I'll draw up a roadmap based on the story I have in mind so that I - hopefully - can plough on in roughly the right direction for the duration of the challenge. At the end of it, I hope to have something worth editing that will eventually be worth submitting.

Undeniably, though, NaNoWriMo requires a unique approach. The trick is to fit the writing in between all the other things that still need attending to - the day job, the domestic stuff, the socialising - and use every spare minute to push the story on. My usual style is to write longhand and to do a first edit as I type stuff up, but with NaNoWriMo there is no time for such niceties - it's a case of getting the words into the machine. As they say on the site, December is for editing!

Nineteen days to NaNoWriMo blast-off. Wish me luck!

Saturday, 9 October 2010


Apparently most of us have yet to embrace e-books. Certainly I can't yet find it in my heart to love them, and the thought of an e-book reader is less than appealing. I was slow to embrace CDs, too: although I came to accept them and appreciate the convenience, I have a fondness for vinyl that persists. I wonder if books will go the same way? And where will it all end? There are 'digital vagabonds' who have managed to give up almost all physical possessions, including, in some cases, their homes. Personally, I cannot even imagine taking such a step. I find it difficult enough to part with the odd book or two: the thought of having only a hard drive to call my own chills me. It'll be interesting to see how things develop over the next decade or so!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Celebration day!

It can be too easy to forget to celebrate the successes, but today is UK publication day for the new book. Cheers!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Sloppy language, innit!

Emma Thompson is unhappy about the way language is used, particularly by young people. Read about it here.

I think it's only fair to take a balanced view. Personally, I adapt not only my language but my accent depending upon who it is I am speaking to. My reasoning here is simple: I communicate in order to be understood. Consequently, I do whatever I feel is necessary and within my powers to achieve that. So, if I'm speaking to friends from the north east of England, my accent is likely to be more pronounced than if I am speaking to people from elsewhere, and if I am chatting to friends, the language I use will be far less formal than if I am chatting to someone in a business context. It's the same with texts and emails. I think probably the majority of people do the same, but do it instinctively. It's all about getting it across, irrespective of whether the words are written or spoken.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

On Writers

I read this recently and liked it a lot, although some of these are a little too close for comfort!

Friday, 10 September 2010

The green-eyed monster

Envy. One of the seven deadly sins, if you believe in such things. We all suffer from it now and then, and yet it is provoked by many different things: shoes, wealth, job promotions, lovers... and words. Yes, words. More to the point, the ability of another person to use words in such a way as to make us think, 'I wish I had written that!'

I recently read, for the second time and after a gap of many years, THE TOOTH FAIRY by Graham Joyce. It is something I originally picked up in a bookshop 'just because'. I wasn't familiar with the author and hadn't read a favourable review, it simply appealed to me in some way and so I bought it. That copy has gone the way of all things, but I have often thought of the story - the characters, events and the feelings it and they provoked - and so I recently bought the book again. Second time around, I was surprised both by how much I remembered of the story and also how much I had forgotten. I was not surprised to find that it evoked a strong reaction, just as it had the first time I read it.

THE TOOTH FAIRY is a wonderful read, a tale of growing up, rites of passage, friendship, love and loss - and the supernatural. The threads are drawn together so skillfully throughout that the pattern woven is both familiar, as we can identify with the characters in the story, and foreign, as the journey they - and we - take covers new and different territory. And at the end of it, as well as feeling that the story had fulfilled its promise to entertain, challenge and provoke, there was just a twinge of envy. Had I written that story, I would be very proud of it indeed.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

More on the PLR

The campaign for the maintenance of the PLR at its current rate continues, as reported in
The Bookseller

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Public libraries and the Public Lending Right

When I was a kid, not many weeks went by without me beating a path to Southwick Branch Library, my arm stretched and aching from carrying a pile of books. Southwick was a beautiful library, Victorian, high celings, tall windows, heavy wooden shelves and a walk around desk where you presented your books for return or stamping out. Sometimes I spent time just wandering around the shelves, taking in the atmosphere and revelling in being surrounded by so many wonderful books.

That was after I got my tickets for the senior library, mind you. I had spent what seemed like an age beforehand stood at the door of the poky wee room that housed the junior library, gazing longingly at the high, dark shelves stuffed with treasures I was not yet allowed to enjoy. I had outgrown the junior library in every way. The shelves were stupidly low, the books were for babies. Oh, sure, they'd served me well enough when I was smaller myself, but I was bored with them. I'd read everything I wanted to read. There wasn't an Enid Blyton left untouched and frankly I couldn't have cared less what Katy did first, never mind what she did next. When I finally got my tickets (six, hence the aching arm, as opposed to the measly two the junior library offered) I swear I shed a tear. It was like receiving the keys to the kingdom.

I read all sorts of stuff, some of it gold, some of it less so, all of it wonderful at the time. I discovered Kurt Vonnegut, Colin Wilson, Robert A. Heinlein, Roger Zelazny, J. R. R. Tolkein... then there was Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and the Three Investigators. I followed those with Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe and the plays of Noel Coward. And so much more. The place was a treasure trove and there wasn't much that couldn't be put right with a visit to the library.

Without the library I wouldn't have had access to even a fraction of the books I read. There is no way my family would ever have been able to afford them. Even now, I use the public library system extensively for research. One of the things I like most about the library system in the UK is that authors are rewarded with a few pence every time one of their books is borrowed. This is the Public Lending Right, or PLR. Whilst it represents a tiny fraction of the cover price of a book, for many authors this extra income is what enables them to keep on writing. Also, the amount an author may earn through PLR is capped, meaning that the main benefit is felt by authors who earn comparatively little from their writing, rather than the bestsellers.

The government is currently scouring public spending with an eagle eye, looking for areas where cuts can be made. One area where spending has fallen drastically in recent years, and that is bound to attract scrutiny at this time, is PLR. The results of the Spending Review are due to be announced on 20th October. In the meantime, there is the opportunity for writers to show support for the safeguard of PLR by signing here:

Friday, 27 August 2010


Words are powerful things, and some of the highest-paid wordsmiths aim to use them to influence our spending. There is no denying they can be incredibly efffective, too - I can still remember sales and marketing slogans from my youth. Slogans like 'Beanz meanz Heinz', 'Bring out the Branston' and 'Go to work on an egg'.

Nowadays you might think that advertising would be more effective than ever before. Advances in technology, a deeper understanding of the psychology of buying and greater disposable income should surely combine to create massive opportunties for 'savvy' sales and marketing people.

However, I'm not sure that's the case. In the past, television adverts were beamed into my living room and, even if I didn't actively listen to them, they played out in the background. These days, when the adverts come on - and there are more of them than ever before, it seems - I more often than not hit the 'mute' button. Not because I hate the adverts, necessarily, but because they are so loud, they become intrusive. I use an adblocker programme to avoid adverts on the Internet. I rarely buy a newspaper, becuse I use online news sites. I buy magazines, but generally skip past the ad pages without reading them.

Then, of course, there are the adverts I actively avoid. Should a BT ad, featuring the truly appalling Adam and Jane, or any Halifax ad, appear on my television, I risk injury with the speed at which I reach for the remote to either mute the sound or change channel. I will not entertain them. BT still have an element of monopoly about their services, so I have no choice but to be a customer - although I buy no more from them than I must - and the Halifax will never have my business. As a direct result of their advertising, I choose to avoid them.

In fact, I have trouble thinking of anything I have bought as the result of advertising, yet none whatsoever thinking of things I would not buy. Perhaps those cunning sales and marketing people aren't so clever after all!

Monday, 23 August 2010

'I' before 'E'...

I'm partway through a Chapterhouse proofreading and copy-editing course and it has had an odd effect on me. (I should say that proofreading and copy-editing are things I have been doing for a long time, not things that are new to me; I just felt it would be a good idea to formalise my skills and obtain a certificate of competence to prove my ability to prospective employers.) I have long believed that my spelling and grammar skills are pretty good. Despite this, I routinely check words in the dictionary when completing exercises that are part of the course, or completing work for employers.

This has had a dual effect: on the one hand, it has shown me that I can spell and that my grammar is good, which is very reassuring. On the other, it has highlighted some words that I believed I knew how to spell and that I have apparently been mistaken about. For example, it turns out it's 'nerve-racking', not 'nerve-wracking', 'no one', not no-one', and 'doll's house', not dolls' house'.

These are only small things and yet they challenge assumptions and beliefs, which I welcome, since they also lead to learning and improvement. I expected to enjoy the course, and I do; as a bonus I am also, it seems, learning more than I expected to!

Friday, 20 August 2010

So what are words worth?

I'd never really given much thought to this until I tried earning a living as a writer, and the answer has to be - it depends. On the surface of it, freelance writers should be awash with work - never before has so much been required to be written, what with the Internet, information for companies, books, magazines and newspapers... the list goes on. And whilst most people can write, fewer can write well enough for publication. (Not that that necessarily stops them!)

However, there seems to be a lot of people out there who want words for next to nothing. Just this week, I have seen the following freelance jobs advertised:

  • A number of 500-600 word articles for the Internet, at £2 each
  • A short e-book for £50-£150
  • A novel to be ghostwritten for £1,000-£5,000
 And although, as a fellow freelancer commented: 'We do this for a living, not for petrol money', each of those jobs attracted a number of bids from freelancers who were prepared to work for a great deal less than minimum wage. Words, it seems are not valued very highly at all!

And yet there are good jobs out there, reasonable employers who know that you get what you pay for and that for someone to be motivated, they need to be paid a living wage. They seem sometimes to be very much in the minority, but they do exist. It's just very, very disheartening when people devalue writers and writing by either offering or accepting such pitifully poor rates of pay for what is - in the right hands - a highly skilled job.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Um... is this thing on?

So, here we are for the first post of yet another blog about those things so many of us enjoy - words, of course! And just as I was wondering what to blog about in my inaugural post, I find a poor review of one of my books on Amazon. Well, I say a poor review... in all fairness, accusing a ten-year-old out-of-print book of being dated is probably not the worst that could have been said. I do wonder, however, why the person in question bothered to say it at all, since it would very much seem to be stating the obvious. Far more annoying is the fact that the review also pops up for the new edition of the book, which is due out at the end of September. Not yet in print and already slammed for being out of date - that may be a record!