Dangling Participles.

I don’t want to get too personal, but how do you feel about your dangling participles? Do you reel back in horror at the sight of them? Feel there’s a time and place for them if used wisely? Or wonder what on earth I am talking about?

If you are in the last group, a dangling participle occurs when a clause in a sentence relates not to the noun or pronoun that follows it, but to one in a previous clause. As in:

‘Mary thought Mr Brown was a misogynist and she vowed she would never work for him; then again, being a woman, he probably wouldn’t employ her anyway.’

Sometimes a dangling participle will cause confusion, but few readers of the above sentence would assume that Mr Brown is female. Being a woman obviously refers to Mary.

Many style guides disapprove of the use of dangling participles. John Humphreys, in Lost for Words calls their use a ‘hanging offence’ (pun, presumably, intended) because they are ugly and can mislead the reader.

Hamllet ghostBut who could improve on Shakespeare’s phrasing when the ghost in Hamlet tells his son that:

“Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, a serpent stung me”?

No words are wasted, and everybody knows it is Hamlet senior who was sleeping in the orchard, not the serpent.

Dangling participles are not necessarily good or bad. The only test for their use is that, when the reader comes to the end of the sentence, is the meaning clear? On the evidence above, I would say that Shakespeare definitely passes.

Links to my Amazon author pages:

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

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

 

 

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Am I Bad Enough to be Good?

I didn’t know until recently that some publishing houses that are inserting ‘morality clauses’ into their contracts, a phenomenon that has apparently been growing since the rise of the #MeToo movement. Publishers, it seems, are worried that if a writer is found to have behaved badly, it will affect not just sales of their own books, but the whole publishing house.

Nicola Solomon, of the Society of Authors, is worried. She cites one publisher warning an author against any acts that indicate ‘moral turpitude.’ That is, they must avoid upsetting the accepted standards and feelings of the community through their life-style, or they won’t get a contract.  This despite the desire to shock the reader into re-appraising agreed norms (think Updike, Kerouac, Winterson) being, says Ms Solomon, the reason why some authors put pen to paper, and why many readers buy their books, in the first place. (And aren’t we all told to write about what we know?)

There are plenty of writers and poets, generally regarded as good – not to say great – who have been the staple of school and university reading lists because they have the ability to combine writing compelling original prose or poetry with original thinking. But how many of these would pass the ‘moral turpitude’ test if it had been applied when they were looking for a publisher? Here are just a few who might fail:

Virginia+Woolf

Bust of Virginia Woolf

Charles Dickens – cruelly cheated on his wife (as did VS Naipaul on his – many, many times)

Patricia Highsmith – anti-Semite.

Virginia Woolf – anti-Semite (which included most of her husband’s family) and snob.

Philip Roth – sexist

Philip Larkin – racist and alcoholic

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – drug addict.

Lord Byron – where do you start?

George Eliot – defied the accepted norms of her time by living openly with a man she was not married to.

Even writers for children have not been immune to the conflict between writing engaging books that children love, whilst being really quite unpleasant in person roald 1and to their families.

Roald Dahl – a sexually promiscuous misogynist, racist, bullying liar, (and that’s just his wife’s opinion).

Enid Blyton who was so busy writing her children’s stories she had no time for, or understanding of, her own children’s needs.

What all these ‘bad’ writers have in common is the ability to touch the lives and minds of readers, and to encourage them to read more. How much, in these more sensitive times, should a reader be deterred by knowledge of a writer’s questionable behaviour off the page? We will never know if publishers get in first with a rejection letter. What will we lose if we can only read works by those who are pure in thought and deed? A lot, thinks Nicola Salmon.

And me? Would my sales improve if I was a better person? Or am I not bad enough to be good?

You can check this out by going to my Amazon author page where you can often download one or more stories or anthologies for free.

solstice logo (1)

Planning a launch.

When my writers’ group put together an anthology recently we planned a launch for the beginning of March. We:

  • Ordered extra copies
  • Booked a table in a local bookshop (who put the date in their Facebook calendar)
  • Talked about it on our own blogs, Facebook Twitter etc.
  • Mentioned it (more than once) to friends
  • Organised a press release
  • Had a slot on local radio
  • Put the date in our own diaries to make sure we turned up to do our stint on the sales.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the weather could! On the Friday it snowed. And snowed …

By Saturday morning roads were impassable so the bookshop owner couldn’t get in to open his shop, and most of us couldn’t get there anyway for the same reason. All that could be done was to ask the radio to mention the event was cancelled.

At the next meeting, we decided to hold another launch at the end of May. After all we still had the stock of books, and boxes of sweets, we had ordered for the original date. We dutifully put the date in our personal diaries. Job done.

Except it wasn’t of course – we didn’t double check it was in the bookshop diary until the last minute (it wasn’t, but as the date was free we could still go ahead, minus their advance publicity). No one thought to notify the local press and radio, and I wasn’t the only one who didn’t do any promotion via Twitter, blog and Facebook.

As a result we spent a pleasant hour chatting to each other, eating all the promotional chocolates, and selling one anthology to a friend of mine who’d wandered in for a slice of the truly delicious home-made cake sold at the bookshop, and felt sorry for us.

Maybe we wouldn’t have sold out if the event had gone ahead in March as planned and promoted. But we’ve learnt a few things about the consequences of not doing the preparation properly from our May effort.

anthcov2However, better late than never. If you’re tempted to buy a copy of this gently humorous anthology, Stories to Make You Smile, here is my link. It is an enjoyable read, ideal for lazy summer days on the garden lounger – and I’m not just saying that because mine is the first story you come to.

myBook.to/StoriesSmile

http://amzn.eu/5i4b5mh

 

 

PS: If you have any good ideas for making a launch go with a bang (and some good sales), please share.

 

 

Fame – a poisoned chalice for a writer?

Sathnam Sanghera, is a journalist who writes regularly for the London Times. He has also written a book – The Boy With The Topknot. A Memoir of Love. This is about his Sathnamexperience of growing up in working class Wolverhampton with his immigrant parents, and siblings. The book was recently made into an acclaimed film for television. So you could say he is a writer who is definitely on the foothills of fame, if not yet a household name, or a familiar face on screen.

In one of his recent short pieces for The Times he wrote about walking through London with the Bollywood star, Anupam Kher, who played his father in the film. Such is the actor’s fame that a fifteen minute walk to a shoe shop took over an hour because of constant requests from fans for selfies with him.

No one was interested in the author himself who mused that, with all eyes on the actor, now would be the perfect time for him to commit a crime. Clearly the best cover for a heist would be to do it in the vicinity of a celeb. He didn’t in fact commit any crime, to my knowledge. But fame like this, he feels, would be creative death for an author.

‘So much of what writers produce depends on being able to watch, and when you are famous you never get to do that because everyone is watching you.’

Maybe he’s got something there. There are plenty of best-selling writers – Stephen King, Ian Rankin, Martina Cole – whose faces we can call to mind from the back covers of their books, but not the way they walk etc. Therefore I’m pretty sure I would pass by them on pen and paper 2the street, and they could carry on observing the world untroubled by my wanting a selfie with them.

I did once get asked if I was famous. But I think the questioner was muddling me up with somebody else. However if you’d like to give my prospects a modest boost by downloading one of my books from Amazon, here are the links:

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

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

 

 

 

 

Crime, taxis, and writing YA novels

Across the world, taxi drivers provide a great service: ferrying people to and from airports and hospitals, driving people home after parties so that they can drink a glass ofTaxi wine or three without worrying about being over the limit, helping – as I have witnessed – old ladies back to their homes after a shopping expedition (and even ensuring the food gets put into the fridge and freezer before they leave). They put up with anti-social hours, reduction in sperm count (so I’m told – it’s all that sitting), and quite a lot of verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse from inebriated passengers.

But there have been a number of articles in the paper recently pointing out the sinister role some taxi drivers have played in serious crime including sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. I was not fully aware of this when I wrote my YA novel, GIRL FRIENDS. In the novel I wanted to convey something shady, sinister, and foreign, with links between nearby towns. Two seedy taxi firms seemed to fit the bill as illustrated by this excerpt about one of them:

Grace takes us away from the main shopping area and down a side road into a more run down part of the town. It’s not late but, with the darkness and a couple of shuttered shops, it looks deserted and I start to feel even more nervous. Grace’s step quickens.  “Hurry up,” she hisses at me, “nearly there.”  She points to a lit up building towards the end of the lane—it looks like a take away of some sort, but I can’t make out the writing above the shop. “But I’m not hungry…” I start to say. “Idiot,” she responds. “I know you’re not, this is where we’re meeting up.”

I see, as we get closer, that it isn’t a pizza take-away any more, but has been taken over by a taxi business. The name across the painted out window is foreign and I don’t have time to take it in. “Grace, I can’t, this isn’t my scene at all,” I almost whimper.  But by this time, she is already going through the door and I feel I can’t leave her now. Besides, I don’t know this part of town, and don’t want to go back on my own. Perhaps we can just have a brief chat with whoever this new boyfriend is, and then head back. The home must have given her a deadline for returning and it can’t be that late on a school day, surely?

Grace pushes the door open, and greets the woman behind the counter.  “Hi Bev.”  Bev looks as if she is in her forties—much older than my mum anyway. She is short, fat and greasy looking, with lank, dyed-blonde hair with dark and grey roots showing at the scalp, and huge eyelashes. Even with the short time I have to take her in I can see that these are false. I feel I should be pleased there is a woman on the premises, but the sight of Bev does not exactly re-assure me. She looks up as Grace strides in and smiles at her. But it’s not a friendly smile, more of a leer. No, I definitely don’t like the look of this Bev person.

“Hallo darling,” she greets Grace with a bored drawl. “Brought your little friend, I see.” She adds, looking me up and down with ill–concealed contempt.  Bev’s accent is thick and foreign. It’s not an accent I recognize—but I’m hopeless at accents, even British ones. She is sitting at a short counter with two phones in front of her. The rest of the small office is bare apart from a couple of tatty chairs and a battered sofa. She has a heater on full blast behind the counter and the air smells stale and stuffy. 

Despite this, I shiver. What on earth has this place got to do with Grace and any date she has set up? Perhaps we are going there by taxi? I turn to question Grace, but she has gone round the counter and is standing next to Bev. Bev looks up at her and smiles again. Again I feel her smile is false and unfriendly, rather than warm and genuine. This time she winks too, one large heavily made up upper eyelash bearing down, then rising again, with difficulty, from the caked lash below. I shiver again.

“They’re in the back,” she says after a short pause. “They’re waiting for you.” Grace nods to her, then turns and gestures for me to follow her. Nothing bad has happened so far, but all my instincts are telling me this is not where I want, or ought, to be. But I don’t want to be on my own either, or to leave Grace at this stage—even if it is her doing that I am here in the first place.

GIRL FRIENDS is narrated by 15 year old Courtney. If you want to find out whether her instincts are sound, and Grace is indeed heading for big trouble, you may like to purchase my book from Amazon.

Girl Friends - cover

 

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01EX9DPMS

myBook.to/GirlFriends

http://www.solsticepublishing.com

 

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Did she go up or down the aisle?

A break from blogging for a short holiday turned into something rather longer as my 95 year old mother became very ill following a stroke.

She died on Saturday 19th May, so I missed the televising of that ‘wedding of the year’ between an American actress and an English prince. Being otherwise occupied beforehand I also largely missed the controversy over who would walk Meghan down the aisle. But I subsequently heard about the debate over whether she should be ‘walked up’ or ‘walked down’ the aisle.

The London Times referred to her being ‘walked down the aisle’ to the altar, only to have several readers argue that she would have to be ‘walked up’ the aisle to her fiancé and would then ‘walk down’ it on the arm of her new husband. The topic was then aired on the BBC with, I understand, general agreement with this up and down symmetry.

Should writers of romantic fiction take note?

Well maybe not. Debrett’s, the go-to guide for etiquette, says the father of the bride should ‘walk her down the aisle on his right arm.’ And the Church of England website, in its guidance on giving the bride away, has a section headed ‘Walking Down the Aisle.’

As it happened, being a modern young woman, the bride on this occasion decided to walk most of the way towards the altar unaided. Whether she thought she was going up or down the aisle at the time has not been recorded. Meghan

 

Tags and #Tags

Most people who use social media, know what tags are on Twitter etc. and use them to attract more followers. I will, no doubt, add a few tags to this post to advertise it and maybe encourage a few more readers to follow my blog.

Tags, when you are writing away from social media, are a bit different. These are short, questioning phrases, at the end of an affirmative or negative statement. Such as the cheery – “It’s cold today, isn’t it?”  as you hurry pass a neighbour in the street. Or the more hectoring – “You won’t do anything silly whilst I’m away, will you?” from a busy mother to a recalcitrant teenager.

Tags are regularly used in dialogue. Their aim is for the speaker to confirm that the person they are speaking to is listening to them and has understood what’s been said. They do not appear much in formal / literary prose. But they can be found in more informal prose, such as a newspaper article, where the writer wants to grab the reader’s attention, maybe with their opening sentence.

Even if they are mainly used informally, tags have their own grammatical ‘rules.’ They almost invariably use an auxiliary verb – to be, which is usually followed by a personal pronoun – it, you, I, we etc. Sometimes they us irregular verbs – “I’m a clever boy, aren’t I ?” (not amn’t I). I suppose you could say ‘am I not?’ but that sounds a bit pompous. And the perfectly correct, but archaic, contraction – ‘ain’t I?’ seems, to have gone out of fashion, doesn’t it?

As you can see from the above, the most used tags are in the negative, aren’t they? But they don’t have to be – and you don’t have to be a born again optimist to use a positive one occasionally, do you?

tag

Children playing tag – not a very relevant caption for this blog, is it?

If you would like to read more of my work, please go to one of my Amazon author pages, where you can usually find at least one story is available free.

 I am taking a short break now – back the end of April.