Shop talk (anything and everything on writing)

This category contains 43 posts

Hello, can’t stop.

stolen bride1

It’s amazing how writing a romantic novel interferes with blogging. I got into NaNoWriMo properly about three days before it finished and now the only thing I’ve got on my mind is what to do about the fact that my hero has completely ignored my plan and gone off piste. Ignored it, I tell you. The ungrateful bugger. You create these characters, give ’em charm and fabulous looks and this is how they thank you. Mind you, he has a point. I had made him a bit underhand about the heroine’s inheritance, and you can’t have a chap doing that. However much of maverick he is.

They can do everything else, though. They can kidnap a girl, impugn her honour, assume she means ‘yes’ when she says, ‘no’ (but only if he loves her really), and seemingly cheat on her left, right and centre (but only if, at the end, the girl he was seeing so much of turns out to be his long lost sister, or the impoverished widow of his best friend). But money? Only a cad would do a girl out of her inheritance. Odd, where all these unwritten rules come from.

I’ll just have to make him misunderstood, instead. Bloody romantic novels. Bloody writing. Does your head in.

Back soon….


I am writing, I just have an invisible keyboard.

Attack of the arty barbarians


I spend my working life editing stuff. I used to work on a national paper, editing news stories about crazed axe murderers, cute squirrels, and sex-mad politicians, but now I wade through reports by academics and marketing analysts, and occasionally have mild hysteria at what they do to the English language. Today, though, the vandalism of this beautiful language has hit a new low.

I give you Professor Olivier Richon, head of the photography programme at the Royal College of Art, who says, on the college website:

‘The programme understands photography as a medium with no fixed identity. This disregard for a fixed essence is photography’s strength: no aesthetic purity but a multiplicity of rhetorical forms used for the creation of fact, fiction and fantasy. Equally the boundary between the still and the moving image is now fluid and porous, enabling new forms of image making to be created.’

Olivier, hang your head in shame. What kind of bollocks is that? Can you not write simple English? Or are you frightened that if you wrote clearly, your course would seem boring?

There’s more:

‘We have a fluid approach to image making. Whether still or moving, analogue or digital, the photographic image is for us a visual form that aims to be thoughtful as well as playful: an allegorical and thoroughly visual form.’

What possessed you to write such tosh, Olivier? ‘The moving image is now fluid and porous’??? ‘a fixed essence’ ?? ‘a fluid approach to image making’?? Wtf? (Calm down, ed). It’s photography, sweetheart, not hydraulic engineering.

And of course photography is ‘thoroughly visual’. What else would it be? Invisible?

A hydraulic pump

A hydraulic pump

A camera

A camera

Ok, so everybody who writes has their own idiosyncrasies. Tabloid newspaper reporters cannot resist talking about people living in ‘leafy suburbia’ or ‘a neat semi-detached house’, especially if they’ve come to a sticky end. Mums-to-be are always young, even when they’re middle-aged. Brussels is full of bureaucrats, and Whitehall teems with mandarins.

A mandarin

A mandarin

More mandarins

More mandarins

The health service no longer talks about doctors and nurses and patients, but medical health practitioners and end users. Query: Is that ‘end’ as in, ‘my end is itchy’, or as in ‘my end is nigh’?

Academics always love showing off how clever they are, and their day is made, it seems to me, if they can write things that no one else understands. Their theories are disseminated upstream and downstream and are transparently solid. They love to take perfectly respectable words and force them to do jobs they weren’t intended for. Let’s have a moment’s silence here for poor old sustainable and legacy, and high income demand elasticity.

This way of writing is not pretty, but I’ve come to expect it with a fatalistic shudder.

I understand that the people involved in marketing art have to talk about auras and experiental workshops. (I have no idea what it means, but I suppose they have to have an outlet for their inner demons.)

But, a multiplicity of rhetorical forms??? Get Out Of Town.

Professor Richon, don’t do this to your students. You wouldn’t jump up and down on a camera (all right, maybe you would in an experiental workshop). Use this language properly. Say what you mean. Don’t fuck about with something millions of people hold very dear. (Bet you’d have to something to say if I spray-painted the Mona Lisa.)

Here’s a thought; if your writing is bilge, then maybe your course is, too. If you can’t write decent prose, (just try, dammit), then why not put a photo on your website that shows what the course is about? (The one you’ve got at the moment, of a dog just about to pee on a ladder, is, frankly, bizarre.)

P.S. You spelt engagement wrong in the third par.

P.P.S. In your next attempt, spare some thought for the rules of grammar, too. Image-making takes a hyphen; and the phrase ‘for us’ is a subordinate clause, and needs commas; but your piece is so woeful, you need to start again. Really, you do.

P.P.S. Okay, I’m calm. Rant over.

Images via Creative Commons, courtesy of





Confessions of a lapsed writer


I am supposed to be taking part in NaNoWriMo. But I have to confess, I’ve been backsliding. First part of my romantic novel; a breeze. They meet, he’s handsome she’s starchy, they cross swords (not literally, but actually…that’s an idea) they kiss and then…..oh, I dunno. It’s not got enough oomph. So, naturally, I’ve been displacing like mad.


I have cleaned the picture rails in the kitchen. (Why? Who looks at them?)

I have cleaned the oven (actually I got my husband to do that, while I had a cup of tea and supervised. It’s very therapeutic watching other people work).


I have been watching Strictly Come Dancing It takes Two on Catch Up TV. (How sad is that???) But really, Judy had to go, for the good of the collective. She was stiffer than, well, a stiff. And if you get to the point where the only thing in your favour as a dancer is your mum’s shortbread then, really, it is time to shuffle off.

I have been wandering through YouTube, looking at all those Armstrong and Miller pilot sketches. This one has to be my favourite:

But really, there is nothing to beat looking up pictures of all the silly place names in Britain.


I know, I know. Back to work.








Stealing from the best

Flamenco dancer

When I was about 16 or 17 I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. Failing that, I wanted to spend my afternoons in faded bedrooms making love to matadors (ok, maybe just the one, darkly handsome matador) and lounging about in bars smoking Gitanes and drinking red wine with, well, Ernest Hemingway, who of course would be writing about my fantastically interesting life.

Coming home from school, I would practise flamenco dancing in my bedroom, although I could never rattle my castanets; or dodging imaginary bulls (which, years later, came in very useful when trying to get served in crowded pubs).

I began to write my schoolwork in short, repetitive sentences.

In geography:

Farms are very big in Australia. In Parramatta, Gweea, Cameera, Cadi, and Memel, there is not much water, but they have many sheep. Often the sheep die. That is because of the water problem.

In history:

Napoleon was unlucky that year. He had stomach problems. It was not good to have stomach problems when fighting with Wellington. Wellington did not have stomach problems.

My teachers didn’t care for it much. I went to the staff room a lot in those days. To see my teachers. But I was not persuaded. If only everybody could write like Hemingway. (Stop it now, ed).

But, of course, the madness passed, and I began to develop a taste for other authors, and copied their style shamelessly too. I loved the way John Steinbeck described things, and discovered if I used his clear, step by step method, that I could put over what I meant really effectively. I tried hard to emulate PG Wodehouse’s effortless style and humour and I was completely seduced by the world weariness of Ian Fleming. And, naturally, being a moody pretentious teenager, I spent a lot of time wandering about casually with Dostoevsky, although we never actually got along.

Bit by bit, all these other authors and many more, have taught me how to write. I’ve taken what I liked from them and mixed it all up until I’ve found a method I’m comfortable with; that is my own voice. But I’m still learning. Still reading, still borrowing.

Who are your teachers?


Picture: Flamenco Gold 1998. Finished painting after a series of preparatory studies. Oil and gold leaf on canvas and glass by Fletcher Sibthorp.

From Creative Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/76/Flamenco_Gold.

Why are we all so passionate?

So...where do you stand on direct resourcing?

So…where do you stand on direct resourcing?


What is it with the word passionate?

I had an email from a guy yesterday who, get this, is hugely passionate about direct resourcing and offering expertise to a full 360 degree recruitment process in-house.

Come again?

Everybody’s doing it. I saw a guy on Twitter who is passionately discovering the world, and another who is passionate about gardening. Gardening??? Wtf??

I don’t know what a 360 degree recruitment process is, but maybe I ought to. Especially if it’s going to make me feel [hugely] intense, impassioned, ardent, fervent, zealous, vehement, fiery, heated, feverish, emotional, heartfelt, eager, excited, animated, spirited, vigorous, strong, energetic, messianic, fanatical, frenzied, wild, fierce, consuming, violent, tumultuous, flaming, raging, burning, uncontrollable, ungovernable…(that’s enough definitions, ed).

Frankly, I’m exhausted. I’ve spent all morning on my hands and knees trowelling madly in the wet earth, coping with my hugely tumultuous, flaming, ungovernable desire for spring bulbs, and now I have to face my raging, all consuming, ungovernable feelings for direct resourcing.

According to jobsearch.com it is certain that in a job interview you will be asked what you are passionate about.

Apparently you’re supposed to reply by saying you like helping your mother with household repairs, or possibly attending evening art classes. Do not, I urge you, tell your interviewer that you’re feeling frenzied about a bit of sawing, or that you have erotic feelings over Constable’s Hay Wain. Although, frankly, any twit who wants you to be passionate about direct resourcing deserves everything they get.

Why can’t people just say they like doing something?

picture courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mauch_Passionate_kiss.jpg via Creative Commons

Awkward Alice


They try to be kind to Alice, you know. But she’s an awkward customer. She lived all through the Blitz. Had a stillborn baby the night they hit Wapping.

Her husband was odd though; Tony, he were in one of them Japanese prisoner of war camps. In Burma. When he came home he was as thin as a gipsy’s whippet. You could see right through his hands. He ate a bone, once. At a Rotary dinner. Chomp, chomp, chomp all through the speeches. Like a bloody great dog. Alice just acted as if it were normal.

Tony didn’t live long after that; Alice brought all them children up on her own. They’re all grown up now. Very good jobs; doctors and the like, in Australia. The nurses at the home are lovely. But she’s a difficult one. Never happy unless she’s miserable. And now her family’s here and it’s her birthday dinner. She’s 100. They’ve all come to get her. Her sons have come all that way, and her grandchildren. They’re taking her to a fabulous restaurant.

Alice is at the home watching Bargain Hunt. She watches it every day. ‘Come on, Alice sweetheart. Time to go for your dinner.’

‘Bugger off,’ says Alice.


I was inspired to write this by the short stories on Bruce Goodman’s blog. I like his short, staccato style. I wanted to write it so that the narrator had a specific voice, but to keep him/her separate from the actual story. (If you make the ‘you’ in the third par into an ‘I’ for example, the last par doesn’t work.)

I also wanted to experiment with voice; to break the rules about not using cliche, and to see how far you can write how you speak, without it becoming as confusing as real speech.

Picture courtesy of https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2744/4398104241_0a5ac81a59_z.jpg  via Creative Commons

Rubbish idea


Note to self: Do not write ideas for blog posts on back of manky old envelope.

100 posts! Ain’t that dandy?


This is my 100th blog post. Can you believe it? (No, ed) I find the fact that I’ve kept on writing, reasonably regularly since last September, utterly amazing. Me. Who would rather do the ironing than face the prospect of sitting down at a blank screen and thinking up something to write about.

One hundred posts. That’s (quick pause while I consult calculator) about 40,000 words. Wtf! That’s nearly a novel! And that’s not counting the (sometimes lengthy) conversations I’ve struck up with all the interesting people I’ve met here in the blogosphere.

It’s been interesting, and exciting and, at times, it has to be said, rather discouraging. Nobody read my first two posts. Which was not surprising because they were rather dull and worthy efforts on how to write an essay. I had just finished my OU degree, and they were really instructions to myself in case I forgot how to treat an academic subject (dunno why; can’t see anybody suddenly wanting me to knock out 3,000 words on Shakespeare).

In September I posted every day, and when I got 12 likes for Wtf? Guys, listen to yourselves. I thought I was really motoring. In October I missed a couple of days, but my readers slowly climbed. And then I wrote a piece about my mother playing Scrabble, Out of the mouths of Babes and Grandmas and was astonished when one of my students told me she’d read it out loud to her daughter. In a café. In London. Call me naïve, but I hadn’t really pictured anyone reading my stuff. Certainly not anybody I knew. I mean, like buttons and real people aren’t the same at all, are they? (You are naïve, ed).

Things dropped off a bit after that, and my posting became rather haphazard, and I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere (not that I knew where I wanted to get to). I had started blogging with the intention, as a professional writer, of handing out advice to aspiring writers (whether they wanted it or not). And I couldn’t understand why nobody was coming by. And then I read a piece by Opinionated Man on blogging, who said that bloggers are all, if you like, a field of dandelions.

field of buttercups (couldn't find one with dandelions)


Nobody wants advice from people who think they are roses. They want to know how other dandelions are doing. And he was dead right. In any case, my stuff couldn’t really be compared to a rose. More like the stuff you mulch them with.

So I stopped and I wouldn’t have come back, if it hadn’t been for Bruce Goodman sending me a lovely email asking when I was going to post again (thanks Bruce!). And, when I did sign in, I found a really nice message from another fellow blogger, MikeW. So, that was how I discovered this place is a community. An odd one, since the chances are we’ll never meet in person; but, looking at it another way, it has the advantage of allowing you to talk to people you never would otherwise meet.

Then my daughter took me in hand. She showed me how to take advantage of Twitter; how to tag my tweets and told me also to tag my posts on Facebook. She also told me off about the dullness of my stock pictures, and that I should take my own at all times. I signed up for the WordPress 201 tuition, and everything kind of clicked. I realised I couldn’t bang on about writing all the time.  I wanted to write about family life and everyday stuff that was on my mind. And more people began to drop in.

And I don’t feel discouraged any more. I don’t have thousands of followers on WordPress, or more than 30 likes for any of my posts, but I do have a few close posting buddies who always drop by; there are others who pop in occasionally, and there are always new people popping into my reader, with new ideas and fascinating lives.

The most important thing is that, without a blog I wouldn’t write at all. And while I don’t like the thought of writing, I do like doing it.

So, thanks, WordPress, and here’s to the next 100 posts.



Off-road writing

rebel bridepic

Did I tell you I was writing a book? It must be 20 years or so since I lay back on the old chaise longue, put my hand to my furrowed brow and began scratching away.  Have you tried it? (Have you been at the gin? Ed). Anatomically impossible, unless the dog holds your notebook. Plus the pink feather boa gets in the way.

So here I am clattering at the keyboard and I have to admit that all my best laid plans have gone totally agley. Like, totally. All that stuff I said about planning? Out the window. Plotting? Likewise. I mean, I made a plan. I made a jolly good one, with everything that was going to happen in each chapter all down for me to follow. But now that I’ve actually started scribbling, nothing has gone to plan at all.

My characters have stayed pretty much the same. The hero is still the drop dead gorgeous man I envisaged, although rather more ruthless than I had bargained for, if yesterday’s draft is anything to go by, but he keeps I keep changing his identity (Poor background or rich background? Texas oilman, or war hero? Or both? I spect I’ll find out eventually). Heroine has remained pretty much the same too, just not quite such a drip. So that’s all right.

The thing is, that as I write, new and exciting vistas open up, that hadn’t occurred to me when I was just thinking. So I take a sharp left or right off my highway, without a map. I have no idea what is going to happen, but it’s exciting and, really, to me, that’s the whole joy of writing fiction.

Remember that foolproof plotting sheet that I dug out of somewhere? The one showed you how your plot should progress? Strangely enough my new direction (so far) fits in with all those rules, just in a different way.

Anyway, I’m off. Got writing to do.


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