Sunday, February 28, 2010

Aussie Humor

There is a special kind of humor that is all Australian. It's hard to describe it to anyone who doesn't instinctively know it but we are an irreverent mob.

But this little bit of Aussie endeavour is called JUST A NOTE.
It's written by the famous, very famous Anonymous.

Just a note to say I'm still alive and haven't passed on yet,
Though these days I remember a lot less than I forget.
I've got used to my arthritis and I guess I'm now resigned
To my dentures and bifocals, but gee, I miss me mind!

I often can't remember, when I'm standing on the stair,
If I'm going up for something or I've just come down from there.
And I hold the fridge door open and I stand there, full of doubt;
Did I just put some food away or come to get some out?

Or I rush into the spare room and I hesitate because
I needed something urgently, but can't think what it was.
Now, if it's not my turn to write, you'll pardon me I'm sure.
Sometimes I think I've written to you just the day before.

Well, I guess it's time to mail this, think that's all I have to say,
Except, of course, I wish you didn't live so far away.
And I'm standing by the mail box and boy, is my face red!
Instead of posting this to you, I've opened it instead.

And irreverence?
How's this...

Again by the Honorable Anonymous.

Our lager
Which art in barrels
Hallowed by thy foam
Thy will be drunk
Thy pints be sunk
At home as it is in tavern.
Give us this day thy foamy head
And forgive us our spillages
As we forgive those who spill thee against us
And lead us not unto incarceration
But deliver us from hangovers
For thine is the sin done, the headache, the guilt trip,
For ever and ever...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just plain interesting stuff

As I have already told you. I am a fan of how this, the language, my mother tongue developed. And, with the help of a man called Melvyn Bragg, who wrote a book called:


Let me share some interesting things. But if you really want an adventure buy the book. There's a television series to go with it by the way.

He has a list of 100 most common words. Most of them come from Old English. Three are from Old Norse, and the first word of French origin only cuts in at 76 so what are these words?

Here goes.

1. the
2. of
3. and
4. a
5. to
6. in
7. is
8. you
9. that (this is a word you edit out of your manuscript)
19.they (Old Norse)
41.there (Old Norse)
49.their (from old Norse)
54.about (Useful word. Canadians say aboot. Americans don't ;-))
58.them (Old Norse)
76.number (first of the French origin words)

But wait there's more.

Britain was invaded. It was a nice little earner. And I'll dig up some more interesting stuff about this ministrone soup called English.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

How to write a romance novel

I started writing romance in Nigeria when I had more time on my hands. We had a housegirl, a gardener, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a special school for our kids and for a gal that had been working her butt off to keep a husband in university, a kid in preschool so she could work her butt off, and little time to breath. Some people just sat around in this little glass bubble of expatriates. Squandering their time.

But that isn’t me. I don’t sit around doing nothing. My brain constantly buzzes and skims around for activities and thus with my trusty little blue plastic typewriter two layers of carbon paper, the pages mounted on my first romance novel. My guide was a mountain of Mills and Boon which was very popular in Nigeria for both men and women and readily available.

I also had a friend who also loved romance, and perhaps it was she that sparked the awareness of a need for writing and for the genre.

My road to romance writing halted while I took time out to study and to write and illustrate picture books for children. But, in that space of time, I think I really did learn my trade and came back to romance because by nature I am a romantic soul. And of course from the early days of little blue typewriters I was lucky enough to be part of a generation that benefited from the blessings of the computer age. Carbon paper leaves a lot to be desired.

I do love comedy and so comedy and romance sat very comfortably on my shoulders. I can watch Sleepless in Seattle and Pretty Woman ad nauseum. Love Jane Austen to distraction.

I never really thought about writing an historical novel until my brief for The Enchanted Faerie turned up. I discovered, since I have an abiding love of research, historical novels can be fun. The essential to writing historical, indeed any novel is convincing world building. The setting must be very believable. World building in any genre is terribly important because the reader must quickly forget the real world and be suspended. Next step for me is Regency. This genre lends itself so easily to my forte – comedy so watch this space.

So what are the rules of a romance? As far as I can think, they are exactly the same for any other kind of genre.

Convincing world building. . I’ve often wondered what idiot said blue and green should never be seen, only on the faerie queen. That is stupid. I’m sitting looking out the window and there’s that tree I love, and a perfectly blue sky behind it.

Lovable Characters. Second most important thing is to make characters lovable enough to want to pursue them in whatever adventure they are undertaking. Even if they really are awful, make them lovable. One doesn’t want to spend time hating the main character/s. My characters all end up as friends by the time I’ve finished a manuscript.

Consistency. Make sure your characters stay the same. I don’t mean that they can’t suddenly discover God or that they are undergoing life changing experiences, but make sure they react in a way which is believable and the way they really would behave because leopards don’t change their spots.

Be clear and precise. Plant the facts for the reader in a logical way so they don’t have to work hard to remember the plot direction. You do not want them having to double back because they’ve missed something.

Never take the reader for granted. There is absolutely nothing wrong with loving romance novels. They sell more books than anything else. The reader will smell an author who is treating them like idiots from a mile. Don’t write down to the reader as if they are a moron. If you don’t like romance then don’t write romance.

All the normal needs of any novel, plot, arc and ending, goal, motivation and conflict are all important just as they are in any other kind of novel worth its salt. The basic premise of a romance is the conflict. The demands of GMC – goal motivation and conflict. This basically is translated into: He/she wants – because – but. You must have this to make a story move.

Know your target audience. If you have a specialist genre – paranormal, time travel, contemporary, comedy, suspense then of course you will have to know what publishers of that genre require. That means you should know what publisher/s you want to target. Specially important because the readers will be expecting a certain standard and they will be very tough on judging anything that doesn’t convince them in their belief systems. You are suspending belief in a believable manner and unless you fulfil this then forget writing because neither agent, nor editor, nor reader will even be slightly interested.

Probably the best piece of advice I, as a writer, has ever been given is this.

Make every work you do your best. Never just let a manuscript drift because it’s good enough. It will end up in a bottom drawer and you will cry over rejection slips. And also be your own harshest critic. Of course every time you start a new manuscript it will probably be the inheritor of your skills getting better.

Edit, edit, and edit again. Be your own harshest critic. Don’t be precious about a piece you really know shouldn’t be there. The best novel doesn’t waffle on. If you are at a party listening to a drunk waffling on about nothing you soon get bored. So what’s different about a reader?

Make sure you have a good hook system. Hooking is important because it’s grabbing the reader’s attention. First line of the novel is important, but hooking throughout the novel is also important. Between point of view changes, and chapter changes.

Which does remind me to mention the importance of establishing the main characters. I have seen some people introducing so many characters in the beginning of the novel that it’s almost like trying to remember everyone’s name at a convention in the first day.

And there’s the biggy. Show not tell. This has been discussed by aspiring writers and authors constantly. What it means is simply don’t fall into a trap of boring description. Keep the writing vital and fresh. Don’t waffle on. Let’s say the character is lighting a cigarette.

Sam wanted a cigarette so he reached into his pocket and pulled out his cigarettes and red lighter.


Sam’s craving was strong. An irresistible urge he’d been fighting since he was twenty. Fingers danced impatiently and finally gave in to the urge for a cigarette.

I don’t need to mention the pocket. That’s a given and not really important where what and how he accessed them.

So really, what I am saying is that there aren’t any special rules for a romantic novel. It is simply a genre like all novels and employing all the rules of good story writing. Weave your spell, make it magic and make the reader extremely sorry they reach the end because they love it.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Today Miss Snark's First Victim, an excellent blog lost from my link list along with all thirty of the others into internet Heaven, and I haven't yet learned how to retreive them or to start up a new list... Google time!

She raises the point that there are two extra vowels, Y and W. You will have to go there to find out what she says in her post of today (Friday 20th Feb). And this was my answer:

English is mashed potato. The rules we know today are tampered with, and made as one size fits all. They are wrong, wrong, wrong. First of all I became aware of sounds when I studied Pitman Shorthand. Without realising it I was learning to use symbols rather than letting the printed word block my linguistic sensibilities.

Basically consonants and vowels are floating entities. Consonents are hard sounds. The ‘l’ in look is a hard sound. The ‘l’ in could is a soft sound. Of course this sound is lost on us today. But once it was a vowel sound. A crude attempt at capturing a sound it was meant to convey.

Firstly may I recommend you go directly to Amazon and order yourself a copy of THE ADVENTURE OF ENGLISH. A BIOGRAPHY OF LANGUAGE by MelvYn Bragg. He talks of English in a section on which he describes as GVS which means Great Vowel Shift. He says that printing largely fixed spelling pre GVS but that took place after the setting of words. Thus a language which is in turbulence with its printed equivalent ends in the two being out of sync.


“When properly read aloud, the fourteenth century English of Chaucer sounds strange to modern ears in a way that, on the whole, the late sixteenth century English of Shakespear does not. For example, Chaucer’s way of saying “name” would have rhymed with the modern “calm”, his “fine” with our “seen”; he would have pronounced “meet more or less as we would pronounce “mate,” “do” as “doe” and “cow” as “coo” (as it is prounced in parts of Scotland).
“In the years between Chaucer’s birth and Shakespeare’s death, English went through a process now known as the Great Vowel Shift. People in the Midlands and south of England changed the way they pronounce long vowels… (held in mouth long time) (meet, street) rather than short vowels (met, mat). Unquote.

He goes on to say on this subject that the invention of printing had an impact on language and the written word. Gutenberg in Mainz invented printing (press) in Mainz in 1453. And Caxton started printing English in 1453. The first dated book printed in England in English was Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres 1477. Caxton also printed romances, books of conduct and philosophy, history and morality and the first illustrated printed book in English was “The Myrrour of the Worlde 1481. Caxton worried about how to achieve a common standard. Caxton wrote “Certaynly it is harde to playse every man by cause of dyuersite & chaunge of langage. For in these dayes euery man that is in ony reputacyon in his counter, wyll vtter his commynycacyon and maters in suche maners and termes that few men shall vnderstonde theym.”

So really the vowels and consonants are loose translations for modern logics of today. They crude. Logically a consonant should be a hard sound. And a vowel a soft sound. I learned Hebrew and I find that – apart from being a neater language – its written word illustrates the vowel sounds apart from the hard sounds. Almost the way Pitman symbols do. Of course to a native Hebrew speaker they would read words out of familiarity much the same way we English speakers read and are not disturbed by words such as could, would, wrong, write etc. And understand how one mouse turns into two mice, while one house turns into two houses, but that’s another whole chapter isn’t it. Sheesh who’d want to learn English!

But basically, your suspicions on lurking vowels is very very logical and we are all heading up the garden path where the sign says THIS IS HOW YOU MUST GO AND DON’T ARGUE WITH ME. But you know better.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Reviews

This is an exercise in the necessary evil of putting one's work out on the stage. And one must apply the very apt saying:


No. It's true.

They can hurt me. They do hurt me. They don't stop me. I just have to remember that a review is written by one person. And if I apply logic, some people must like Brussels Sprouts because if nobody did, then nobody would bother to grow them - or sell them - so it's basically a matter of personal taste.

And also, to be mean back, there is another saying:


So one wonders whether there's a little element of jealousy? A little bit of "Oh I can do that, but I'm too busy."

But perversely a bad review is probably better than a good review. How? Imagine that everyone always loved your work. It's what happens in every artistic industry. If it works don't fix it. And your publisher/movie mogul/gallery director etc., confines the artist to continue in the style that makes their work successful. Thus they are robbed of the artistic scope to further explore the potential of their work.

But it's nice to get a good review.

Monday, February 15, 2010

On being a dinosaur

I have to struggle with today's technology. I only revel in the knowledge that somewhere in the world is an idiot bigger than me. Where? Don't know. But logic tells me there's a bigger idiot. In fact I know one of them. My mother. She is a technology idiot. But that spooks me because I don't want to be like my mother. One isn't supposed to. That isn't natural. Unless maybe she's Meryl Streep or Audrey Hepburn.

But I know I'm like my mother. One generation more modern than she. That generation didn't know what computers were and probably a small percentage of them coped with computers and digital knick-knacks.

I'm trying to download a Norten but I can't see how. It's supposed to ask me questions, but it's as dead as a Dodo. I am waiting for my daughter to come and help me.

You see, she's one generation further on and doesn't look anywhere near to being a dinosaur like me. (She'll probably be glad.)