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September 2010

As my granny used to say

The most I've ever laughed at a book is at the weekly Anger Management group sessions attended by the cast of Wuthering Heights, in Jasper Fforde's The Well of Lost Plots. And if one of your favourite literary love stories is that of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, then knowing your Donne makes it even better. Only, of course, there'll be readers who don't get the reference, so don't get the joke, and can't be swept away by the love scenes. Equally, you're not going to baffle many readers if you make someone say "Bonjour", but what if they're talking... Read more →

Hanging on in there

In Denotation and Connotation: enjoy!, I was exploring the connotations of a word in Eleanor Catton's story "Two Tides", where what it denoted was straightforward. But clearly, if you get stuck on the basic meaning of a word, you're less likely to also pick up the connotations of it. That whole first sentence goes like this: The harbour at Mana was a converted mudflat, tightly elbowed and unlovely at any tide but high. But some readers stuck on what, in physical terms, was denoted by the word "elbowed", used as an adjective: they couldn't picture the scene. Whereas for me,... Read more →

Denotation and Connotation: enjoy!

A recent and very fascinating thread on WriteWords has been unpicking the opening of Eleanor Catton's story "Two Tides", which was published in a recent issue of Granta (the Summer 2009 New Fiction Special, if you want to track the story down). I won't précis the discussion here, because the whole thread's worth reading and ranges over a good deal of ground, (the story's well worth reading too) but even a single sentence (or rather, half sentence) illuminates all sorts of interesting things in miniature. Catton's story opens thus: The harbour at Mana was a converted mudflat The point at... Read more →

Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "Understated and 'gentle' just is my voice"

Some time ago, I lent This Itch of Writing to Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt, so that she could reply to an aspiring writer. Since then Jerusha has been travelling the world from New Zealand to Harmondsworth, in search of new ways to understand our peculiar art and craft. But every now and again another cry of writerly anguish reaches her by pigeon post, and she stuffs her reply into a bottle and tosses it into the sea to reach me. As she did with this one. Dear Jerusha; I've published four novels with (and had four more novels rejected by)... Read more →

Only a proof of the splendour

The signs to have your formal graduation portrait taken were at least as large as those for the graduands' check-in and for collecting robes, and more colourful. I had an hour to go till the ceremony and you don't have to pay unless you order one. The people in front of me were being slotted one after another into six units of the franchised formula, first alone, then with family, then "next please". Standard lighting setup, friendly and efficient ladies, camera with leads to lights and laptop, a slap-it-down rubber circle where you stand, complete with extra white line at... Read more →

How even punctuation can be about music

Okay, so in a loose, anecdotal, bloggy sort of way we've tackled how unpicking what you're doing in terms of grammar and syntax might help you to say what you're trying to say better, and also the different effects of past and present tense, and the value of learning to handle long sentences. Today's thinking aloud is about how a minute query about punctuation opens up an exploration of what you're trying to say. Here's a sentence from my work in progress: And yet even the most self-hating Papist wife or joylessly Puritan husband knows that it is not so:... Read more →

As it falls

I'm not sure why the post here, about how to make your Moleskine into a more efficient planner, gave me the giggles, but it's also set me thinking again about notebooks again. My basic notebooks small (bag/pocket) and big (desk/holidays) are not organised in any way, except that I start at the beginning, and fill it from left to right, till it's full. I did once decide to collect my PhD thoughts at the back, but kept forgetting to put them there: now everything gets bunged in together. In life, I like things sorted and organised by function and logic.... Read more →