How much is a comma worth?

Comma usage can be surprisingly contentious. I am always surprised by how many additional ones proof readers put into my manuscripts before they go to the printers (though I have never seriously thought that they were paid by the comma). However, a recent court case has shown just how valuable a comma (or in this case the lack of one) can be.

In Maine, USA, a Mr O’Connor and 50 fellow truck drivers went to court to argue their caselorry for overtime pay. According to the laws of that state, workers are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week, unless there is a specific exemption. The truck drivers’ firm had told the drivers they were not entitled to overtime pay because the law did not apply to those involved in:

“The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packaging for shipment or distribution of:  1)Agricultural produce, 2) Meat and fish products, 3)Perishable foods.”

The firm claimed that this clause included the drivers who distributed the product. The drivers’ lawyers disagreed, noting the absence of a comma after the word shipment. This, they argued, meant the law could only apply to the people packing the produce ‘for shipment or distribution,’ and not to those whose job it was to distribute it.

In other words, a comma after ‘packaging for shipment’ and before ‘distribution,’ would have made it clear that the drivers were not entitled to overtime. But the absence of a comma, judgemeant they were.

The case went as far as an appeal court judge who ruled that the language was indeed ambiguous, paving the way for the truck drivers to claim overtime pay.

 

Many guides to grammar state that you should never put a comma before the ‘and’ or ‘or’ that comes before the last noun etc in a long list. Such dogmatism is silly. As the case above shows, the lack of a comma at this point (it is sometimes known as the Oxford Comma, or serial comma)  can lead to ambiguity. The overarching guide for all writers, not just law makers, should be – will a comma here make my meaning clearer or not?

As writers, few of us are likely to gain financially from our use of commas, but by applying them judiciously we can at least save our readers from becoming confused. And that’s were a good proof reader comes in useful.

If you have enjoyed this blog, and would like to read more of my work, please check out my published work page, or go to:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

 

 

A short YA read for Sunday.

Happy ‘Everybody Reads YA’ #SundayBlogShare. Today I am sharing an excerpt from Sleeping First LoveBeauty. This is a short story that combines fairy tales, fantasy, hospital drama, and a teenage girl’s first feelings of love. The story can be bought as a stand alone e-book, and is also one of the stories in the anthology First Love, published by Summer Solstice.

Excerpt:

It seemed a funny idea of a quest to me, and Mum never got round to telling me this story, or teaching me to read properly. She got sick and died, and all I had left to remember her by was a head full of fairy tales and the recollection of her scent: l’air du temps, according to the label I eventually learnt to read. The scent still clung faintly to her dresses and a coat that Dad had hidden in the back of my wardrobe when Sukie moved in. Sometimes I would sit in my wardrobe and pull the door close, just to breath in the memories of a happier, safer, time.

Blurb:
sleeping beauty

Dawn has been in a coma for a year and is visited in hospital every day by her devoted father, occasionally by the ghost of her dead mother, and once by her vicious stepmother. Unable to move a muscle she monitors their coming and going and relives the events that lead to her accident. She yearns to wake up and live like a teenager again, but nothing so far has been able to rouse her from her deep, deep sleep. Then, on her fourteenth birthday she is visited by a mysterious delivery boy with a strange package.

 

Links:

First Love Anthologyhttp://bookgoodies.com/a/B01BH43NXS

 Sleeping Beauty:   http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01CKKNG7Q

myBook.to/TheSleepingBeauty

 

 

Paying attention to detail

I recently read a book during which I was constantly distracted by typos, changes of tense mid paragraph and poor page layout. It wasn’t a great book, but these distractions certainly didn’t help keep my attention on the story-line.

Aspiring writers often ask what they need to do to get their book published. Well, aside from a cracking plot and believable characters which no doubt you have already, you need to do all the boring stuff too.

Even if you do not spend money on these matters, you need to ensure your manuscript is properly edited to avoid repetition and inconsistencies – your heroine can not be blonde on one page and brunette ten pages later, unless you point  out on a page in between that she has had her hair dyed. She can’t be allergic to eggs in chapter one and have an omelette in chapter fifteen, without her suffering dire consequences by chapter sixteen. You also need to check and re-check for spelling and grammar mistakes, and ensure there is consistency in the layout of pages, paragraphs and chapters, without the odd blank page appearing in between.

Friends and ‘beta readers’ can help with this, if you don’t want to pay for the services of professionals, but if this work isn’t done, your manuscript is unlikely to be picked out from the piles beside each desk in a publisher’s office.

You may have already decided to go down the self publishing route. Your cover, title and story might be enough to tempt a potential buyer. But if your editing, proofreading, and page layout screams ‘amateur’ rather than professional, that might be the only book you sell.

I have been lucky, most of my work has been published by Solstice – http://www.solsticepublishing.com – or other creditable publishers who undertake to get your work ‘bookshop ready’ before it goes on sale. But, even with proofreaders and editors and my final check over, the odd typo still remains. Just goes to show what a difficult, albeit vital, chore this is. (And, even though I’ve read it twice and run a spell checker over it, I can’t guarantee that this blog is fault free either!)

My Amazon author pages:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

 

 

 

 

Happy Everybody Reads YA

Welcome to ‘Happy Everybody Reads YA’ #SundayBlogShare.

Today I’m sharing a review of my 2016 YA novel, Girl Friends, that appeared on Goodreads and Amazon Books last week. Writers appreciate reviews, and when they are as good as this, we positively glow with pleasure, and feel inspired to write more, and write better!

Review;

Girl Friends - coverThis book is truly a wonderful read. It starts early with a bleak portrayal of a typical evening in the life of Courtney Jacks; there is domestic abuse, alcoholism, and saturated fear throughout that first introductory chapter. But then you also immediately see what a good hearted person the main character, Courtney, is.

I think that this book touches on a lot of adult themes, but it is 100% something that Young Adults can and should read. There is the struggle to improve yourself, the delicate balance needed to maintain friends, how to overcome self doubt, and most importantly of all is how to save a friend who needs saving.

By the end of the story, I cared deeply about all the characters, and in post-analysis of their development, found no critique but only praise for how well Margaret made every character into a brand new creation by the end of the book.

The book was very enjoyable from start to finish, and I heartily give it a 5 star review.

Links:

 

Homophones and Homonyms

Do you know your homophones from your homonyms? Yesterday I was relocating a book on the history of English spelling that I had bought as a student. It had been written by my tutor, David Scragg, and I had hoped that buying it might improve my grades. It didn’t – though I suppose actually reading it would have helped!

Tucked in the book was an article from a newspaper. I’m not sure which one, or the date it was published. It was written by Charles Lewis, a barrister with an interest in language. His particular interest was the ambiguities in English and the problems this can cause ordinary folk, let alone lawyers.

His discussion of homophones and homonyms brought back memories of lecture halls in the ’70s that managed to be simultaneously  stuffy and drafty, and fellow students who managed to snooze peacefully through lectures on the more arcane areas of English grammar despite the uncomfortable wooden benches.

But the two ‘H’ words are quite fun. The examples given below may not work for all English speakers because we use different dialects, but you can probably think of your own word pairings that would.

Homophones are words that are pronounced in the same way, but are spelled differently, like Rome and roam, or horse and hoarse, or wade and weighed, see or sea. Teas / tease / tees. Rain /rein / reign. Homophones are words that sound the same, but come from different language roots (Anglo-Saxon / Latin / Greek etc.)

Homonyms, on the other hand, have the same spelling and pronunciation, but mean completely different things.  For example:  seal – the animal, and seal – the means of closing something; lock – hair or bolt; mine – colliery, or possessive; saw – tool, or past of the verb to see; see, the verb and see, a bishop’s area of responsibility. Again homonyms have come into common usage via different language roots.

There are also a whole pile of words that have the same spelling, but are pronounced differently: tear, wind, does. Lewis called these biphones.

A few words can fit all categories. One such is ‘row.’

  • Homophone – row (your boat) / roe (fish eggs)
  • Homonym – row (your boat) / row (of beans)
  • Biphone – row (your boat) / row (argument).

the-ghost-queen-001If you have enjoyed this article, and would like to find out more about my work, go to the Published
work page on this blog, or my Amazon Author pages.

My most recent work is a short story, The Ghost Queen. It is based  on Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, and is part of my Shakespeare’s women project. It is published by Solstice.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

myBook.to/GhostQueen

 

 

Everybody Reads YA

Welcome to ‘Everybody Reads YA’ #SundayBlogShare.

Today I’m sharing an excerpt from a short story loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A young girl is sent from her happy home and family to fulfill her father’s dying wish that she should marry a distant cousin and thereby save the family estate as a home for her mother and younger sisters. Unfortunately, when she arrives at her destination, it is her intended husband’s younger brother who first attracts her attention. The story is called Journey to the Fair Mountain.

Excerpt:

He had deep blue eyes and gave me a lingering smile as he held my hand. I felt a tremor Journey to the Fair Mountainpass through me that was more than just the cold. He held my hand tighter and put it to his lips, but the trembling did not stop, even as I curtseyed.
“Your hand is frozen,” he said, stroking it gently, and looking straight into my eyes. “It must have been a hard journey through the snow.” I nodded, and bit my lip to stop it quivering as I lowered my eyes, shy and awkward under his probing gaze, too awed to say we had had no snow that day. Was this the one? My future husband? And was it really less than a week since I left my own home? It felt such a long, long time ago.

william_shakespeares_first_folio_1623

 

Journey to the Fair Mountain is one of a number of short stories based on Shakespeare’s heroine’s activities off stage that I have been writing. A  number have already been published in anthologies and as stand alone e-books, and are available from Solstice Publishing, or from my author page on Amazon Books.

 

 

 

Links: 

Journey to the Fair Mountain:                                                                                                 http://bookgoodies.com/a/B019CULSW2                                myBook.to/JourneyToTheFairMountain

A Midsummer Day’s Dream: myBook.to/MidsummerDaysDream          http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01I0CB1WU

The Ghost Queen: myBook.to/GhostQueen

Chains of Magic: http://bookgoodies.com/a/B00YYKOOLS                       myBook.to/ChainsOfMagic

 

 

 

Meet author, David Court

 

david-courtDavid Court is a well known writer in Coventry UK. I met him first through the Coventry Writers’ Group, which meets monthly in the lovely Big Comfy Bookshop. We write in different genres, so the friendship is cheerfully supportive rather than competitive!

What is the title of your latest book?

 Scenes of Mild Peril – It’s a collection of around two-and-a-half years’ worth of short stories, some of which have appeared in anthologies for other publishers, some of which are brand new to this collection.  It’s a collection of short tales and poems – some sci-fi, some horror, some satire. It’s with my publisher and a trusty editor now, so should see release later this year.

What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding?

 For me, the most challenging aspect is finding the time.  I have to fit writing around my full-time job which can be a struggle at times, because I’ve set myself the challenge of writing at least a thousand words per day – and that challenge seems impossible on certain days!

The most rewarding aspect has to be when complete strangers get in touch to say they’ve enjoyed your stuff – lots of people don’t realise how critical reviews are to the writer. It’s the reader feedback that keeps me going, and it’s that that makes it all worthwhile.

 What is your top tip for an aspiring writer?

Write, write, write and read, read, read!  It may seem obvious, but – as with anything – the more you write, the better you’ll get. Even over the space of a few years, I can see how my writing has improved when I look back at some of my earlier attempts.   Reading stuff by other people is critical too – mainly so you don’t stagnate, but also because you’ll learn to recognise various techniques and can adapt them into your own writing.

 What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve had an idea for a science-fiction series bouncing around in my head for the last decade, so finally took the plunge and put it to paper.  I finished the first draft of Recreant at the start of the year, and am currently going through the painful editing process. It’s a space opera – a mix of political intrigue and loads of old fashioned space battles. My elevator pitch for it is “Star Wars meets the Fourth Protocol”. I’m really pleased with it.

 What do you like to read?

My reading habits match my writing ones – I’m a sucker for a good short story (Ray Bradbury is the absolute master of them) and horror (in which the Borderlands series are top-notch).  I’m also a huge fan of comics – I grew up reading 2000ad whilst all my friends were into the Beano and Dandy – and am thoroughly enjoying Saga (Vaughan and Staples) and Michael Carroll’s run on Judge Dredd.

 Where can readers find you?david-2

 I’ve got a blog which you can find at www.davidjcourt.co.uk.  My Amazon author page is https://www.amazon.co.uk/David-Court/e/B00GMCNVRE which has a link to all the stuff I’ve released so far. If you’re tempted by my work, the best place to start is Forever and Ever, Armageddon – Super Alpha Turbo Extreme which is a collection of all my released short stories to date.  I hope you enjoy them!