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The Apostrophe – a brief history

If you are reading this blog it is probably because you have a passing interest in writers, apostropheswriting, and grammar. You will, no doubt, know all about the correct use of apostrophes, apply them correctly most of the time – even the best of us slip up now and then – and snigger when you see them misused by greengrocers and such-like. Possibly you feel you are maintaining long-established standards, handed down to us by the Venerable Bede, Chaucer, and others of similar vintage.

Wrong! There was no apostrophe in the English language until the sixteenth century, when printing was established and their use was adopted from the French to indicate an elision or abbreviation (such as wouldn’t). It wasn’t used to signal possession – the writer’s pen – until the end of that century . The convention for showing the single and plural possession differently (the dog’s bowl, or the dogs’ bowl) only started in the nineteenth century with the advent of mechanised printing. How those pen-pushers of yore must have fumed to find their established, apostrophe-free, grammar undermined by the new-fangled printing industry.

The apostrophe is irrelevant in spoken English. Context will tell you if the speaker means the bowl belongs to one or more dogs, and you don’t pause in the middle of it’s, as in ‘it’s another sunny day’ because the listener understands perfectly well that you have elided it and is. The listener will also understand from context the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ in ‘You’re joking of course if you think I want your opinion.’ apostrophe2

It could be argued that, if apostrophes are irrelevant to meaning and are unrecognisable in speech, we shouldn’t need them at all. By this logic they should be dying out as being too tiresome to write or read. Instead their use seems to be growing and you see them sprouting up in all sorts of unlikely situations.

I don’t intend stopping using them myself, but will try to confine my use of them to the correct places. Correct that is, for the early twenty-first century.

apstrophes

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A Right Royal Manifesto for Reading.

alan-bennettIn his book, The Uncommon Reader,  Alan Bennett the playwright, author, and humourist (to list just a few nouns attributed to him – many would also add ‘National Treasure’) imagines the Queen suddenly developing such an interest in reading it threatens to undermine her public duties and neglect her hitherto impeccable sartorial elegance.

The novel is short and very funny, capturing exactly the Queen as we think we know her (apart from the reading) and her mind bogglingly stuffy courtiers. These try, using a mix of management speak, which she hates, and snootiness – which she also detests, to bring her back to her pre-reading senses. Without success, as it happens – by the end she has decided to try her hand at writing.

It all starts when the Queen, chasing after her disobedient corgis, finds herself in a mobile library and feels obliged to borrow a book. She reads it, without much enjoyment, from cover to cover, and returns it the next week, telling the driver – librarian, “Once I start a book I finish it. That was the way one was brought up. Books, bread and butter, mashed potato – one finishes what’s on one’s plate.” She borrows another out of politeness, and soon becomes an addict; when her annoying private secretary comments on her ‘passing the time’ reading she quickly rebukes him.

“Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds.”

“I read, I think,” she says later, “because one has a duty to find out what people are like.”

For her, the appeal of books lies in their indifference. She starts to keep a log of her thoughts about reading, noting at various times that: books did not care who was reading them … All readers were equal … Literature is a commonwealth, letters a republic … Reading was anonymous, shared, and common. Hidden in the covers of a book she could roam unrecognised.

She often met authors as part of her public duties but was invariably disappointed, deciding that she preferred to get to know them from their writing. Especially, she notes, as many behaved as if they had done one a favour writing a book, rather than one had done them a favour reading it.

At first she felt a duty to approach each book without prejudice – for her there was no such thing as an improving book. She did find some authors, like Henry James, difficult to read initially, though as she became more adept, her appreciation of their work increased. After all, she observed, novels are not necessarily written as the crow flies. Reading, she later decided, was like a muscle that one could develop. Once difficult books could later be read with ease, and complex ideas understood – one didn’t put one’s life into books; one found it there.

One day, sitting next to a professor of creative writing, she nonplussed him with her enthusiasm for reading. “Books are wonderful, aren’t they?” she asked him, adding, “At the risk of sounding like a piece of steak, they tenderise one.”

In the real world, of course, we have no idea what the Queen reads for pleasure, and what she thinks of books and authors. But we get a pretty good idea of what Alan Bennet thinks from the words he puts into her mouth. As well as being funny, the novel is, as Edward Marriot from the Observer said, “A deadly serious manifesto for the potential of reading to change lives.”crown

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How to be a prize-winning author.

Anne TylerAnne Tyler is an American writer who has written twenty-two novels, won the Pulitzer prize, been shortlisted for the Booker prize, and had one of her books turned into an Oscar winning film. Her latest book, Clock Dance, has just been published and is likely to sell well. Very well – she has a huge following of both male and female readers and has sold more than ten million books since she started writing over fifty years ago.

Unlike most novelists, who are encouraged / expected by their publisher to seize every opportunity to promote their books she has, for the past forty years, refused to go on book tours or appear on chat shows. Her books sell largely on her reputation, and positive critical reviews. She will, however, allow the occasional newspaper interview and recently talked about her writing technique to Louise France.

The author has a small office in her home where she stores her ideas for novels on index cards and jots down the initial outline for each novel on one page. She writes the first draft in longhand, with a black gel pen, onto blank sheets of A4 paper. Numerous revisions are then made to the handwritten draft before she feels pleased enough with her work to type it into her computer.

But that is only the start! She then re-writes it in longhand and, after that, reads it out loud into a recorder so she can pick up what still doesn’t sound right, make further changes and, finally, pull together a manuscript she is satisfied is ready to go to her publisher.

Anne Tyler is already well into her twenty-third novel. Recently she has given up writing all day. She writes in the morning and allows herself to read other people’s work in the afternoon. She reads fiction and doesn’t like memoirs, finding them too intrusive into real people’s lives. Perhaps a fitting stance for someone who is so unassuming about her own fame and talent, and who recently described novel writing as “A very odd way of making a living. Just telling lies.”

Odd it maybe, but it’s worked for her! Though, if her technique is anything to go by, it is certainly not an easy option. Writing a prize-winning novel is hard work.

 

 

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The Restorative power of reading.

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Can you read to make yourself a better person? Laura Freeman thinks so. In fact she’s written a whole book about it – The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite. I haven’t read her book – yet, but I’ve read several reviews and it sounds like it’s a book for me. I’ve also recently read an article by her in The Times. Like her I find the concept of mindfulness to relax makes my teeth grind and I end up wanting to punch someone. Especially when the idea behind it feels to me like a process for emptying your mind rather than filling it – mind-less-ness, as it were, rather than mindful. (Don’t write in, I know other people swear by it, and it’s only my opinion).

Laura’s cure, like mine, for sleepless nights, unwelcome thoughts, generalised agitation? Read a book! Ie. fill your mind with something bigger and better than your own quotidian concerns. In her support she quotes the Irish author and founder of the ecology movement, John Stewart Collis, who in his memoir The Worm Forgives the Plough says:

He who seeks happiness can find it in two ways. He can find it in sports or working the land. He can also find it when the mind is absorbed and the body forgotten. This happens when reading a great book: on such occasions we as good as leave our bodies and go on a journey without them. Few if any pleasures excel this. [This is the way to quell] the restless body and the wandering lunatic mind.

Reading can be addictive. But it is a ‘good’ addiction, unlike many medicines, and the side effects (new knowledge, a good laugh, a cathartic cry …) are almost always beneficial. Also, what with libraries offering books for free, charity shops selling books for pennies, and the bookshelves of friends and family just begging you to peruse them, it’s a lot cheaper hobby / cure than yoga or meditation classes. Even, dare I say it, if you splash out and buy a brand new book you still get good value for money, as you will gain for yourself hours of detachment / distraction from the daily grind, and a book can remain with you in a tangible form to read again or share with others.

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Meet Nuzo Onoh – the Queen of African Horror

 Nuzo Onoh is a British writer of African-Igbo heritage. Popularly known as “The Queen Nuzo 3of African Horror,” Nuzo was born in Enugu, in the Eastern part of Nigeria (formerly, The Republic of Biafra). She experienced the Nigerian-Biafran war as a child refugee, an experience that has influenced some of her works. She first came to England as a teenager and attended The Mount School, York, (a Quaker boarding school) and St Andrew’s Tutorial College, Cambridge, from where she obtained her A-levels. She holds a Law Degree and a Masters Degree in Writing, both from The University of Warwick, Warwickshire.

Nuzo has been championing the alternative horror genre, African Horror, and has featured on multiple media platforms both online and offline, promoting this unique horror genre. She is included in the reference book, 80 Black Women in Horror and her writing has also featured in multiple anthologies. She has written several blogs for Female First Magazine and has also given talks at several events about African Horror, including the prestigious Warwick University Law Society.

A keen musician, Nuzo plays both the piano and guitar and enjoys writing songs when not haunting church graveyards and the beautiful Coventry War Memorial Park. Her book, The Reluctant Dead (2014), introduced modern African Horror into the mainstream Horror genre. Her other books include Unhallowed Graves (2015) The Sleepless (2016) and Dead Corpse (2017). Nuzo has two daughters and a cat, Tinkerbell, and lives in Coventry

What is the title of your most recent book? Dead Corpse (published 31st October 2017). Dead Corpse is an occultic story of supernatural possession and vengeance. It follows the lives9781909484870_cov2.indd of three generations of medicine-women. Ọwa is a diminutive, albino woman, who suffers years of abuse and ostracism from her community because of the pale colour of her skin. She comes from a long line of medicine-women, high priestesses to the earth deity, Aná. Her mother is the late Xikora of the Leloole curse, a powerful medicine-woman whose name, even in death, still strikes awe and terror in the twelve villages and beyond.

Ọwa lacks the ruthlessness of her late mother, Xikora, and is treated with contempt by the villagers, who confuse her gentle nature for weakness. Until the day her only daughter, Aku, is kidnapped and murdered for ritual purposes by “The Fat Man”, a corrupt politician protected by the village chieftain, the police and the witch doctor. Ọwa turns to the Earth Goddess for justice. Suddenly, an entire village awakens to the deadly fury of a powerful medicine-woman, as the dreaded Xikora returns to wreak her special brand of justice on the people responsible for her grand-daughter’s death.

Based on the true plight of African Albinos, Dead Corpse is a ghost story of betrayal, vengeance and redemption.

What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding? I think any writer’s greatest challenge is to keep writing despite everything – sickness, divorce, loss, depression, bankruptcy or whatever else that life throws at one. Ours is a solitary work that requires the strongest of discipline to keep plodding on regardless. In my case, the most rewarding part of writing is when I finally type “The End” after completing a book, in spite of my personal challenges. Nothing tastes better than that celebratory glass of wine.

What does it feel like to be a pioneer writer of African horror? How did you get Nuzo 2started?  When I started writing African Horror, there was nothing like my work in mainstream horror. We had some South African horror writers who didn’t necessarily write African Horror or classify their work as such. As mine was an unknown work, I realised it was vital to create a brand before thinking of approaching publishers or agents. So, I set up a publishing company and started publishing my books. I also started promoting the genre with aggressive media publicity campaigns, using various professional book publicists at significant personal expense to get the word out. Thankfully, now, all that work has paid off and I find myself referred to by numerous reviewers as “The Queen of African Horror.” Better still, there are now a few writers who use the term, African Horror, to classify their work. I am proud to be the first African Horror writer to feature on Starburst Magazine, the world’s longest-running magazine of cult entertainment, as well as the first African Horror writer to feature as a guest speaker at the upcoming Birmingham Horror Con in October 2018. My works have also featured in numerous horror anthologies and podcasts and I’m in the process of pitching to traditional publishers, now that I’ve successfully built the brand.

And can you tell us a bit about your publishing company? My publishing company is Canaan-Star Publishing. It’s a paid self-publishing company of Print-on-Demand (PoD) paperbacks/ebooks. We undertake every aspect of the publishing process from personalised book-cover design using licensed images, to formatting, ISBN assignment, worldwide distribution and registration with the British Library. We don’t offer unpaid editing work and expect manuscripts to be publish-ready. We offer authors two separate book-covers to choose from and the entire process from the signing of the contract to their books getting published is approximately 6 weeks. I started out initially publishing my own books but have since branched out to publishing writers from all over the world, including authors who were previously traditionally published but trying the self-published process.

Please Visit www.canaan-star.co.uk for more information.

What is your top tip for an aspiring writer? Always repeat the mantra: “It’s only a matter of time.” If you have a story to tell, tell it, regardless of who likes it or hates it. Your characters want their stories told, that’s why they came to you as their mouth-piece. Don’t let them down because you’re upset nobody’s buying your book or believing in you. Persevere, believe and trust that one day, the world will wake up to your words. It takes a split second for your destiny to change. Don’t sabotage your success by giving up too soon. It’s only a matter of time.

What are you working on at the moment? I’ve just completed my next book, A Dance for the Dead, a 92,000-word novel of betrayals and ghostly vengeance. I am now polishing it off with a professional coach with a view to getting it traditionally published. I’m also writing some short stories to pitch to various online publications.

What do you like to read? Anything that grabs my attention, which isn’t always horror works, although I have a partiality for Japanese ghost stories and writers (Yoko Ogawa, Murakami, Koji Suzuki, Otsuichi, Ishiguru etc). That said, my all-time fav books are Gates of Fire by Steven  Pressfield and The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

Where can readers find you?

Website: www.nuzoonoh.co.uk

Twitter: @nuzoonoh

Goodreads: goodreadscomNuzo_Onoh

 

 

 

Words we owe to Africa.

Next week I am excited to have the ‘Queen of African Horror’ on my blog, talking about her work. As a tiny warm-up act I’m doing an African themed blog today. First, here’s a small selection of words in English that we all know, but don’t necessarily realise have an African origin.

Africa_map_sunset_motif

  • Banana
  • Banjo
  • Chimpanzee
  • Impala
  • Jumbo
  • Macaque
  • Okapi
  • Safari
  • Zebra
  • Zombie

 

 

And here are a few African proverbs that I think might include a lesson for the aspiring writer of any genre or nationality.

Wisdom: The fool speaks, the wise man listens. (And takes notes – could come in useful for a piece of dialogue one day)

Learning: You learn how to cut down trees by cutting them down. (Good writing comes from practice, practice, practice…)

Unity and Community: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. (Join a writers’ group to help you achieve your goals)

Friendship: Show me your friend, and I will show you your character. (Good tip re developing the synergy between characters in your story)

Money and Wealth: Do not let what you cannot do, tear from your hands what you can. (OK so maybe you aren’t going to write a best seller straight away. But that’s no excuse for not writing anything)

Love and marriage: Love has to be shown by deeds and words (Remember – show not tell, at least most of the time).

Patience: To run is not necessarily to arrive. (No point writing 5,000 words a day, if they are rubbish and not publishable)

Food: Words are sweet, but they never take the place of food. (Very few authors can live on what they earn from their writing …)

Good words are food (… but it is very satisfying to try!)

That’s it for today. I hope you will be brave enough to join me next Thursday (28th) for a journey into African horror.

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Meet author Pamela Q. Fernandes

Pamela 1Pamela Q. Fernandes is an author, doctor, and medical writer. She writes romance, speculative fiction, and Christian nonfiction. She is also the host of The Christian Circle Podcast. You can find out more about her at her website: https://www.pamelaqfernandes.com or reach her on Twitter @PamelaQFerns. She is currently giving away 10 free ecopies of her book on Facebook.

 What is the title of your latest book, and what is it about? THE MILANESE STARS is a romantic heist. It’s about the robbery of a set of pink diamonds also called the Milanese Stars. On the two sides of this romance are Vita, a barista, and Samuel, an insurance fraud investigator.

 What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding? Finishing the story is challenging for me. I have so many ideas and so many things that I want to write. Making the time to write it all is hard. I’m a physician and a medical writer too, so managing the time to get it done is tough.

Reader’s feedback is a big reward. I use books to escape and if somehow I’ve provided that for others, it makes it worth it. There’s nothing better than seeing how much people enjoyed reading your work.

 How did you get started on a heist idea? I remember reading about the Museum Heist at The Hague. The thieves pulled off a heist worth 12 million and their plan was flawless. So much so the security cameras and armed guards saw nothing.  It got me started on the idea of a heist, and then the story of pink diamonds emerged. Since I write romance I thought, why not marry the two?

And can you tell us a bit about your publishing process? In January 2017, I sent my manuscript toPamela 2 Touchpoint Press. They got back to me a month later with feedback from their reading team. They liked the story but there were problems with the book which they were kind enough to detail. I was asked to revise and resubmit.

By May 2017, I’d done the best I could with my manuscript and sent it back. A month later it was accepted and we went through multiple rounds of edits by September 2017. Almost nine months later, once everything was in place, I had a publication date for June 25th  2018. Yay!

What is your top tip for an aspiring writer? My top tip would be to submit a lot. You won’t know what’s wrong with your work until you let people see it. I didn’t start getting published until I started collecting rejection slips. I submitted short stories to anthologies, magazines, websites, small presses and indie houses. They have all given me tons of feedback.

When Touchpoint press first saw THE MILANESE STARS, they suggested changes. There were detailed suggestions on what was not working re the flow, the action, and the characters. I wouldn’t have known what was wrong with the story until I submitted. I’d submitted to several publishers, one of them wanted it as is, without royalties, and I had to turn them down. I believed in the story and knew it would find a home then. So submit your work. You’re going to hurt over every critique but trust me, its worth it.

What are you working on at the moment? I am currently editing my women’s fiction, Painting Kuwait Violet with Solstice Publishing. My first edit has come back from my editor in a sea of red and I’m slowly working my way through it. I’m also writing another romance and I have five more pages to hit the end. The last fifty pages are always the hardest. I’m not kidding, I am literally dragging myself across the finish line on this one.

 What do you like to read? I’m quite a voracious reader. I will read everything I can get my hands on. I did the Goodreads challenge last year and read 175 books. My target was 60. I like reading romance, self-help, science fiction, and mysteries. I’m currently reading Fingerprints by the Gods by Graham Hancock. It’s about how sophisticated civilizations existed before 4000 BC and how they’d mapped the universe, the earth and synodical revolutions of Venus. It’s fascinating.

Tempted to find out more about Pamela’s new book? Here’s her synopsis of THE MILANESE STARS:

The heist of the decade and yet, no one would have guessed… it was her. 

The Milanese stars are missing from the famous Buccatino boutique. When American insurance investigator, Samuel Keane is called in to liaise with the polizia, he finds the whole heist odd. Not only are the Milanese stars, a set of five pink diamonds, not listed in the inventory of stolen items, worse, none of the surrounding owners or passersby witnessed a thing. 

Samuel is anxious to solve the case and partners with local café owner, Vita, who has a very good vantage point to watch Buccatino. Vita herself has quite the interest in Samuel. He’s a decent man, not to mention delicious, and he’s smart. But the last thing she wants is to be caught. After all, Vita has planned the heist for years. Five to be exact. The only thing she didn’t plan is falling in love with the young American. 

As Samuel digs further into the history of the stars, he discovers Vita’s friends and her physically challenged sister are all connected to them. He learns of Vita’s past and the loneliness she’s resigned herself to in an effort to protect herself from loss. Samuel also learns Don Giovanni, proprietor of Buccatino, is no ordinary man. He’s a local Mafioso and will stop at nothing till he gets the stars. 

The more Samuel investigates the more dangers he and Vita face. Can he solve the case and what will happen with Vita? What will he do when he learns the heist of the decade isn’t about stealing pink diamonds… it’s about settling the score

Pamela 3

 

To get the book on Amazon, go to: https://amzn.to/2wQkULy