Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Pet Peeve in Grammar

by Jackie King

I’m not sure when writers started using double punctuation at the end of a sentence, but anytime I read this in any story, I want to throw that book across the room. This weird, double-punctuation always consists of a question mark plus an explanation point at the end of a sentence. For example:

“Does that man have a gun?!”

Rather than:

“Does that man have a gun?”

Let’s suppose the scene had already been set up with our protagonist observing a man dressed in camo. The guy is trying to conceal himself behind a large indoor plant and a woman’s voice rings out,“Does that man have a gun?”

Note from reader: I don’t need the author calling my attention to the fact that this is exciting.

The addition of the exclamation point pulls me out of the scene, the book, and all I hear is the author is shouting in my head, “I’m afraid you’re a little dense and won’t understand how exciting this sentence is, if I don’t draw attention to it.”

Note to all writers: Readers are not dumb!

You will notice that in the above sentence that I didn't use both a period and an exclamation point, as if drawing attention to the fact this is a declarative sentence. That would be stupid, wouldn’t it? (Single punctuation mark.)

It’s equally stupid to use two punctuation marks at the end of an interrogative sentence.

Do you have a pet grammar-peeve? I’d love to hear about it.



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Traduttore, traditore

I wrote a blog a while back about the delight of receiving a copy of one of my books in a Korean translation. Then, this week, through the post came copies of the same book but this time in Spanish.

And it’s against that background that I want to set an email I received this morning. It was from a person who wrote a while back saying very complimentary things about my story Love Hurts and asked for permission to translate it into Persian. This is the same story that’s been optioned by a small film company in Los Angeles (although it’s so long since I’ve heard anything from them that I suspect I can wave goodbye to the dream).

Anyway, it seems she’s finished the translation and is relatively pleased with the result, except for a couple of sentences. She says she doesn’t really understand what I mean by them and asked if I could help ‘solve them’. The sentences were:

Outside, the sky hangs between pale blue and the peach wash of the sunset’s beginning.  Ben is in his usual place on the window seat.  Six feet two of him, folded into a corner of the sky.

And, later:

the peach wash has thickened to a buttermilk gold.

(OK, I know it’s the sort of writing that Elmore Leonard would cut because it ‘sounds like writing’, but I wrote the story a long time ago and I was deliberately aiming at being lyrical. So sue me.)

I really wanted to help with her translation but my first thought was: ‘Well, they’re just images, self-explanatory really’. But I remembered that I wrote the original version of the story for a competition on the theme ‘The Colours of Love’. (It came second and I won £100.) So I wasn’t just trying to paint pretty pictures.

In the end, my answer to her email went as follows:
‘Both sentences are really there to contribute to the theme of colours that runs through the story. The changing colours indicate its development – so there’s lots of brightness and sunshine during the happy days but, as her relationship with her son goes sour, it’s the darker colours which predominate. So here, specifically, the sky is pale blue but the sun is setting, so the blue is giving way to a peach wash (‘wash’ is a term from painting which suggests the colour isn’t intense but diluted). Both colours are fading – the blue is pale, the peach is a wash. And all of this is a visual background seen through the window for the silhouette of Ben. He’s folded into a corner of the sky, which means that he’s a dark, colourless shape. And, as the peach wash thickens to a buttermilk gold, it means the sky gets darker, gold is darker than peach and buttermilk is thicker than a wash. So, in the end, the colour images – which are an important part of the story – help to stress how what starts out as a beautiful, clear love becomes corrupted and evil. Darkness takes over from light, except in the mother’s troubled mind.’

Well, that was the theory, but I certainly didn’t have such conscious thoughts as I was writing it all. But if readers are puzzled by it, it means Elmore’s right and the writing is getting in the way of the meaning. My real reaction, though, was that translating is incredibly difficult, even if you’re truly bilingual. Is a ‘horse’ exactly the same as a ‘pferd’, a ‘cheval’, an ‘equus’, a ‘hippos’ or a ‘cavallo’? And even if you’re convinced they’re all equal, what happens to the meaning when you put it into a context that maybe carries a subtext? And how does the actual sound of each relate to the other sounds around it? And what if its main contribution is rhythmic rather than connotative or literal?
And all of that before you take into account the cultural baggage every language carries. I’ve no idea what effect my story will have in Persian, but, in case you’ve never come across the expression Traduttore, traditore, it’s approximately ‘A translator is a traitor’, which sort of sums up the problem.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Murder with Monsters

by Carola

My next Daisy Dalrymple mystery is going to start at the Crystal Palace.

This vast glass and iron building was first erected in Hyde Park in 1851, at the Great Exhibition. A couple of years later it was taken down piece by piece and rebuilt in Sydenham Park, south of the Thames, with two large wings added. It was in its way a precursor to Disneyland, but with an educational bent. As well as Roman chariot races (and racing automobiles in due time), it had displays of architecture from various time periods, art and sculpture, and other attractions too numerous to list. And the first public ladies' conveniences (loos/restrooms) ever.

The Crystal Palace burned to the ground in 1936. All that's left of the building is the foundations, stretching for hundreds of yards across the hilltop.

One exhibit was unaffected by the fire.  A sculptor, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, created huge models of prehistoric animals in the first attempt to show what the skeletal discoveries of the past half century might have looked like in life. He worked under the scientific direction of Sir Richard Owen, according to the latest scientific knowledge. They are so big that Hawkins gave a dinner party inside one of the sculptures before completing it. Inaccurate as we now know them to be, they are marvellous monsters, now restored and still lurking in natural settings in the park.

I simply can't decide whether to leave a body lying beneath one of the monsters or in the ladies' convenience. Or both.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I’m Thankful for Everything (Except Earthquakes!)

by Jackie King

There are three things I do most every day: write, exercise and pray, which includes counting my blessings. One extra thing has recently added itself to this list: an afternoon rest/nap period. I don’t acknowledge this fourth thing, because I didn’t invite it to join my list. It sort of added itself. I’m an old gal and sometime after lunch my energy disappears. When this happens, I lie down and use the time to count my blessings.

A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving I was doing just that while stretched out on my bed. It was Wednesday on November 12, about 4:20 p.m. Killing two birds with one stone, as my grandma used to say.

The bed began shaking. When you live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, your bed isn’t supposed to shake unless you’re in a sleazy motel and have put a couple of quarters on the vibration gizmo. After a split second of shock, I realized I was in an earthquake.

Earthquakes have been reported in Oklahoma before, but this was the first time I had experienced one. This part of the country suffers through tornado season. We’re not supposed to have earthquakes, too. Not fair! my inner child shouted inside my head. The tremors seemed to go on forever, but it was probably only 5 to 10 seconds. And for sure, when my bed stopped vibrating, I had something new to be thankful for: being alive and safe.

Today is Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving rocks! You don’t have to buy anyone a present, and I don’t even have to bake a turkey anymore. I’m lucky enough to have a daughter named Jennifer Sohl who is the best cook in the world. Or at least in our family. She and her firefighter husband, Jim, host family and friends, and concoct a fabulous feast. Then they serve this banquet on a beautifully set table.

The conversation will be sparkling and fun…it always is. I have two teen-aged grandchildren, the redheaded twins Justin and Morgan. They will spar with their adopted Aunt Bob (Sheryl Lewis) keeping me laughing. I will eat too much and laugh until I’m exhausted.

I’ll also give thanks for everything…except earthquakes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Be Lucky by Bill Kirton

Two recent experiences made me start thinking about the role of luck in our writing and publishing careers. First I received an email from an online writer friend whose books weren’t selling and who was beginning to doubt her writing abilities. I tried to reassure her with my answer that it’s something most writers feel some of the time.  Then came news of some other writers who’d decided to give up because they’d been targeted by trolls who’d written nasty reviews of their books, sometimes without even having read them. My friend needed some luck to generate interest in her books, the others were being brought down by bad luck (and the incomprehensible desire of some people just to hurt others for their own amusement).

I remembered having written an article a few years back about the balance between luck and laziness in my own writing career. I won’t reproduce the whole thing here but it concerned one of those weeks that make being a writer very satisfying. I was feeling good because I’d started a new novel, there was a good turn-out at a reading and talk I gave, then came news that a publisher was interested in some of my sci-fi/fantasy stories and finally, on the Friday morning, proof copies of a non-fiction book I’d written arrived along with a message saying the publisher wanted to commission two more in the series.

So, all good news when I set off for Glasgow for the weekend of my grandson’s 5th birthday. Needless to say, my two grandsons weren’t particularly  impressed by any of this. As far as they’re concerned, my writing skills are judged on whether I can make them laugh when they come into my bed in the mornings. Needless to say, their laughter isn’t provoked by elegant turns of phrase or dramatic linguistic and thematic juxtapositions but by me doing funny voices and creating characters who live inside walls or have two mouths so that they can talk and eat simultaneously. (This particular detail involved an interesting sub-plot about the anatomical separation of vocal chords and alimentary canal and, if the listeners had had their way, would also have involved an exploration of what happened at the rectal end of the process.)

So altogether it added up to a happy weekend. But what’s it got to do with luck?

Well, when lots of ‘results’ of this sort come together, it feels like (and it is) luck. But it has to be put in the context of the many weeks or months, of ‘lucklessness’ which preceded it. We get pleasure out of writing, we work at it, cut, edit, polish, to make it as good as we can, and we send it away hoping that it reaches someone who appreciates it and recognises its quality. So when we get the usual rejection slip or, worse, no acknowledgement at all, we’re deflated, and it’s easy to start wondering whether we’re deluding ourselves and should maybe start a paper round or a window cleaning business. No. Keep writing, keep submitting material. Rework it, resubmit it because, yes, in the present market you need luck but (cliché alert) you make your own. If you stop writing and submitting you’ll never get lucky. I know, that’s so obvious it’s hardly worth stating, but it’s too easy to start thinking it’s all a waste of time. It isn’t. Look back over material you may have forgotten, look at it critically, amend it if necessary, and start sending it away again.

As for the trolls, their need to hurt others reveals more about them than it does about you. How many of them ever have the pleasure of opening a package, taking out a shiny new book with their name on the cover, cradling it and feeling as if they’ve just had another baby?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Moors, mystery, and murder

by Carola

Moorland has provided a setting for a great deal of fictional (and some real) mystery and mayhem, at least since Wuthering Heights and probably before. The example everyone knows is, of course, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which is set on Dartmoor.

Someone recently told me the stories she had read planted an image of moors in her mind that she found to be very inaccurate when she went to England and saw the Yorkshire Moors for herself. When I was in Cornwall last month, I hiked a corner of Bodmin Moor that I plan to use in my next Cornish mystery, so I'll share some pics of the hazards to be met there:

Animals, domestic and wild, and what they leave behind them

   Vicious plants

Rough country

Unexpected sink holes

 and mine shafts not guarded by restored pit-head buildings

Plenty of room for mayhem, methinks!

Monday, November 17, 2014