As a reader, I enjoy Goodreads as book-nerdy social media.
I like being able to organise and “shelve” my books so that others interested in those sorts of books can find them easily.
I like being able to leave a review and a rating for those books so that people who find them can know more about them and hopefully choose to read them.
I like the goalsetting element of the “Reading Challenge” where you set a number of books that you plan to read in a year, and then the website keeps track of them for you.
I like it that my connections there can see what I’m reading and when I’ve left a review.
And I like being able to recommend a book I’ve read and enjoyed to friends with similar interests and tastes.
So, I enjoyed looking over the page of stats they collated for me about what I’ve read in 2017.
I have read a wide variety of books this year – short and long, popular and… less well known, from a wide range of genres. Historical fiction, adventure, horror, romance, mystery, thriller, contemporary, fantasy, sword and sorcery, magical realism, urban fantasy, kids’ books, Christmas stories and humour… they’re all represented. I’ve found some new all-time favourites and broadened the horizons of my knowledge and imagination.
Reading through the highlights and looking at the great cover art of the books I’ve read gave me a lovely sense of achievement and brought back some great memories of books I really enjoyed.
If you’re on Goodreads and would like to connect, you can find me there at
Yesterday one of my students called another a ‘Philistine’. I know he meant to suggest that his friend was uncultured and ignorant, and that is what many understand the word to mean.
So, being the time-and-knowledge-generous history nerd that I am, I took a break from our study of World War I and explained to my class that what he meant to suggest is not what the Philistines were at all.
The Philistines were a cultured and wealthy civilisation that lived in Canaan between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They lived in and between five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The same region bears the name ‘Palestine’ today – a name derived from the Philistine civilisation. The ancient Philistines enjoyed enough military prowess to hold their own against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt at different times, fighting with spears, straight swords and shields. When not fighting wars, they lived in elaborate buildings and made their own pottery.
It doesn’t really seem consistent with the idea of ignorance, does it?
Sadly, this is not the only case of such name-calling being so ironic.
Barbarian is another term which is used quite wrongly. It’s used to suggest that someone is wild or uncivilised. Historically, the Barbarians were any number of Germanic tribes that moved throughout Europe in what many refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’, even though they weren’t so dark at all.
Really, if you look at them, they don’t look so incredibly different from one another, nor from the folk our history books tell us were our own ancestors. It may surprise you to know that the Barbarian tribes included the Angles, Saxons and Picts who set up shop in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire and eventually became some of the most devotedly civilised people on earth. The Gauls became the French, the Geats became the Swedes, and the Danes went on to give us Hamlet, pastries and an Australian princess. (Disclaimer: I don’t know if the part about the pastries is true, but they must be called danishes for a reason… right?)
The Vandals, for example, may have left a trail of destruction in Gaul and Iberia, but they only made a bit of a mess of Carthage before taking it as their capital and making extensive renovations. As a military power, they had skill and knowledge – you’ve actually got to hand it to anyone who could not only withstand the power of the Roman Empire, but also hold their own in so many battles over such a long period. And when they weren’t busy fighting the Romans, they were highly cultured, enjoying music and poetry. They conducted a lot of industry and trade in their North African kingdom. It really was not about breaking or ruining stuff at all.
The Goths, oddly enough, did not sit around in dark clothes wearing black makeup. The name “Goth” was derived from ‘Geats’, the tribe famous for its honour and pride in the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf, as told in the oldest English poem in existence.
Map Prepared by Louis Henwood for ‘The History of English’ podcast, episode 42
They actually had sophisticated architecture and beautiful mosaic art. They made and wore intricate gold jewellery. They were farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths. They followed intricate burial rites, making sure that the graves always pointed north.
Related to the Goths were the Visigoths, meaning “Goths of the west” who ruled Spain for a couple of centuries. They built churches that still stand today, decorated their buildings with intricate filigree art and stone arches. They were skillful metalworkers and jewellers.
It seems to me that we do history a disservice by misusing these terms in such a way. Connotations are not always the easiest things to track through history, but these seem quite unfair. I suspect that such practice grew out of the fear of anything or anyone different, foreign and/or pagan – a concept with which Western society is still painfully familiar.
By the end of all that, the kids’ eyes had glazed over a bit, and there was a fair bit of smiling and nodding going on. I don’t think they will be calling each other Philistines again, though. So… mission accomplished.
If you’d like to know more about Beowfulf and the Geats, you could listen to a fabulous episode from ‘The History of English’ podcast. It’s a great podcast, and if you’re interested in the development and history of the English language, or the relationships between language, people, and places, you should consider subscribing.
I spent most of today with family, welcoming my new great-nephew to the family. It was a day full of love, laughter and baby cuddles… and lots of photos.
Holding my beautiful baby boy made me overflow with all sort of love. Seeing my 86 year old dad holding him made us all more than a little emotional. Another picture of four generations – my dad, my brother, a niece and a baby boy – is a wonderful blessing that many families don’t see.
I have also observed multiple times today how awful I look. That has been my first reaction to every photo I am in.
In addition to chronic pain and depression, too many months of anguish, stress and anxiety have taken their toll. I have cried every day for at least 250 days. I have feared and I have despaired. And it shows.
BUT I have also survived. It doesn’t really matter how crapful I end up looking. I’m stronger than everything that has tried and still tries to bring me down.
My heart and soul have bled onto pages and screens, but my words have touched, encouraged and inspired people on the way. My writing have been praised, and my books have won awards.
So when you look at me or see pictures and think I don’t look so great, you just remember that I’ve earned it.
I’ve read a couple of books lately that have been rather good, although plagued with something that is becoming the bane of my life as a reader: sentence fragments.
There was one book I started reading a couple of weeks ago where this was rampant, along with other issues, to the point where I couldn’t continue.
A sentence fragment is something that presents as a sentence in that it starts with a capital letter and ends with a period, but doesn’t actually make sense on its own.
A sentence fragment is often added as an afterthought when it really should be tacked onto the previous sentence with either a comma or a semicolon.
Consider the following example:
Jack went into his bedroom and closed the door, preferring privacy for reading his new book. Which was something that he knew annoyed his little brother.
That last sentence fragment actually makes no sense without the previous sentence.
If this happens just once or twice in a book, it’s still too often. However, it happens a lot. To be completely honest, it’s something I mark my senior high school English students down on. It’s what I consider quite a basic error: it’s not that hard to read something you’ve written down and ask yourself if it makes sense.
I understand that some readers don’t notice it, but many others will find it very frustrating indeed.
The exception is in direct speech or train of thought writing. People do speak like that, and they often think in fragments of thoughts, especially when under stress or in pain. If it’s something a character is thinking or saying, there is no problem. When it is part of the narrative, however, it really is an issue.
I don’t want to come across as being all finicky and fussy. My intention is that writers might recognise and self-correct this problem in their writing, even if it means revising an entire manuscript so that their book reads better.
This is also another argument for having any manuscript thoroughly proof-read and edited before you publish anything, especially as an Indie author who wants to be taken seriously as a writer.
In the end it will earn you more stars and more readers.
When your story is great, and your message is important, please don’t allow something that is easily fixed to compromise the success of your book.
Instead, take the time and effort to make sure that your writing, and the overall quality of your book, is the best it can be. You owe it to your readers, and you owe it to yourself.
When I was 20, I pledged to never buy another women’s magazine.
Even then I was frustrated by the unrealistic body image they consistently communicated to women. It wasn’t long before that extended to the “cool” publications like Cleo and Cosmo, which I had convinced myself were different because they provided helpful articles on makeup, health and other issues relevant to younger women.
Okay, so I was deluded about that, but it didn’t last long once I observed that these magazines also projected false and unrealistic body images that neither I, nor most of the young women I knew, could ever hope to meet.
For longer than anyone can remember, our western society has had an unhealthy fixation on looks. We’ve been getting it wrong since long before Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves based entirely on her portrait and promptly divorced her the minute he met her in person, citing as his reason the fact that she looked like a horse.
And it’s only getting worse. Chlidren as young as five or six are no strangers to the words “cute”, “handsome” and even “sexy”. Pre-teen kids have body image issues and the eating disorders that go with them. Peer pressure and bullying are daily realities in every school and friendship group that our kids belong to. Marketing is aimed at wearing the right clothes, having the right look, and doing what everyone else does. Social media can take those problems right into kids’ own homes. And it happens to boys every bit as much as it happens to girls.
When does a kid ever get a chance to be themselves?
All of this leads to one challenging question: How do we swim against the stream when the current is so strong?
My answer is that we need to invest differently in people. We need to model much more healthy and constructive behaviour, and encourage others to do the same.
Let me say straight up that I don’t have kids of my own. I have, however, been very active in helping a lot of friends and family raise theirs. Our house has, quite literally, been a second home for more than a handful of teenagers over the years. I’ve also been a teacher, youth leader and mentor for almost thirty years. It’s this accumulated experience upon which I base these comments.
I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does.
But I do have a few ideas about how we can start.
This is my starter list:
10 Ways We Can Change The World For Our Kids
Don’t put kids or other people down. Ever. I can’t stress this enough. Never tell kids, or anyone else, they are stupid, useless or worthless. Criticise a behaviour if you need to, but do not make it about the whole person.
Stop buying into what the media tell us is ideal. Choosing not to surround yourself and your kids with unattainable ideals helps to take your focus off how far short we fall. This decision had a significant effect in my own life, so I am speaking from experience here.
Stop commenting on how people look. Whether someone looks beautiful, tired, or exhausted, don’t say so. Don’t comment on whether someone has lost or gained weight – in this case especially, you can safely assume that they already know. Just don’t comment on anything external. Chances are, the less you comment on it, the less you will think about it. And the more you think and talk about those things, so will your kids.
Instead, comment on things that have intrinsic value. Statements such as “I love it when you smile like that!” or “You did such a good job of that! Well done” can make such a difference to someone because they emphasise one’s value rather than looks. Saying “I really appreciate your kindness” (or any other value) reinforces that behaviour as well as encouraging the person who hears it.
Discuss celebrities differently. Instead of saying “I wish I looked like that!”, discuss the positive qualities of a person or the character they portray. There will doubtless also be opportunities to discuss negative behaviours and messages. Be honest about the consequences those behaviours carry for real people, even if they’re made to look funny’ popular or “cool”.
Don’t comment on your kids’ or your own health, weight or fitness. Make an effort to do something about it instead of commenting on it. Model behaviours for your kids that help to establish habits that will help you as well as them – provide better food, go for a walk, go to the gym together or take up a hobby together. It doesn’t have to cost more to be better for you.
Discuss feelings and values in a positive and purposeful way. Not every feeling or experience shared will be positive, but honest discussion lets kids and young adults know it’s okay to not always feel great about things and teaches them ways to handle different emotions and experiences. This encourages self-awareness, but more importantly, it builds honest communication and relationship that both they and you will value enormously.
Make an investment of time, more than money, in people, especially in your kids. It won’t matter to kids what they have if they feel unloved or undervalued. Take an active interest in each one and find out what matters to them. Building a strong, loving relationship with your child is the best gift you can ever give them. It will bear fruit in every other relationship they have.
Celebrate worthwhile achievements. “You did it!” should be more valuable than “You’re so pretty!”
Be realistic and constructive about disappointments and failure. Make sure they know you care about their disappointment and hurt. Don’t tell them it doesn’t matter, because it does matter to them – at least for now. In time, they will be ready for you to help them see the bigger picture and refocus their efforts and priorities.
We can’t expect to change the whole world. However, we can influence the way they see themselves, and we can influence the way our own kids see, experience and respond to the world they live in.
Something many people don’t understand is the value of leaving a comment on a blog.
It’s easy to read a post and move on, and even easier to like a blog post without reading it.
But stop and think for a moment. How much more valuable to the writer, and other readers, if you actually bothered to respond. Isn’t that what you’d hope for when writing your next blog post? Nobody wants to invest time in writing something that people are just going to skim over.
Not only that, but you will gain more from the post and from the interaction with others than you realise.
You might gain new ideas or perspectives, or you might just end up feeling a little better about life.
It doesn’t have to be a long or complicated post. Even just saying “thank you” or “I liked this!” does the trick.
However, commenting on a blog post is more useful than just propping up the ego of some blogger who hopes to be discovered one day.
Leaving a comment on a blog post doesn’t have to take more than five seconds, but it can make a huge difference to the blogger by helping them, and whatever they have to say, to become more “discoverable”.
Leaving a comment on a blog directly affects the ranking and therefore the visibility of that blog on both the platform – such as WordPress or Blogger – and consequently on the web. Rankings and visibility affect which posts are chosen to be featured on the highlights pages of blogging platforms, such as the ‘Discover’ page on WordPress which pick up the posts that have had the most interaction and engagement, not just the ones with the most likes or views.
One of the author support groups on Facebook to which I belong has been conducting an experiment over the past few weeks. We’ve made a deliberate effort to read, like and comment on a selected blog post by each of the others.
Those posts have consistently attracted more viewers beyond that initial group. These new viewers also seem more willing to read, like, and comment. This boosts the visibility of the individual post and of the blog overall, and helps to attract even more viewers.
In short, it’s a highly valuable snowball effect in drawing attention to both the post and the blog.
Let’s face it. That’s a pretty cool thing to be able to do for someone.
Whether on Twitter or Facebook, or any other social media where you can pin a
post, you should. Frankly, I’m surprised
at how many people don’t.
It is an immediate way for people to see what you’re about – your book, your favourite charity, an upcoming event, social justice issues, whatever it is.
It also serves as an easy way for people to share your posts and get your message out to even more people. Some of those people will share your interest, and either share your post or follow you. Some will do both.
In short, it’s a great way to get more attention with minimal effort.
If you have a good number of new followers on a regular basis, you can change your pinned post each week or each month to give followers and “click-throughs” something new to share on your behalf.
It’s also a great way to get feedback on the effectiveness of your post.
The stats at the bottom of a pinned tweet tell me how many replies, shares and likes that post has had. Clicking on the little graph icon at the far right gives you even more detail about how far your post has travelled.
It can get you more followers and more shares.
There’s another thing to consider, too. If people click through to your profile and all you have is shares or retweets, they can easily decide you don’t have original thoughts to share and lose interest. Given that they’ve been interested enough to click through to your profile, that’s probably a bunch of shares and prospective followers that you’ve missed out on.
To pin a post is easy.
On both Twitter profiles and Facebook pages, each post has a little down arrow at the top right-hand side. Click that, and choose “pin etc”.
That will remain your pinned post, and always appear at the top of your profile, until you choose to pin something else there.
Since 1996, April has been a month of celebration of poetry, which also means a celebration of great poets.
I’m all for that.
Many people haven’t read any poetry since they were in school. I’d really like to see that change. There are some beautiful classic poems out there, but there are also some fabulous poets writing magnificent poetry these days, too.
The real power of poetry is the ability to read something and understand someone else’s perspective in a beautiful, profound way. I can read something someone has written from the depths of their heart, and relate to it and know that I’m not the only person who ever feels that way. I write in the hope that someone will read my poetry and have that same experience.
Who of us hasn’t been moved by the powerful words in a song? And what’s a song except poetry that has been given music?
I encourage you to pick up some poetry and read it today. There’s plenty to choose from on my WordyNerdBird Writes blog, which you can read for free.
Or you could pick up one of these great books by clicking on the title link. There’s nothing priced over $3 for the eBook among them. That’s less than a cup of coffee each… bargain!
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m a history nerd. I love reading it. I love studying it. I love teaching it. And my favourite period of history, ever? Medieval Britain.
So you can imagine my absolute joy when I learned that Leicester Cathedral has made a digital copy of Richard III’s personal prayer book, the ‘Book of Hours’, available to everyone, world-wide, absolutely free. Maybe they don’t realise that I, and many others like me, would have willingly parted with cold, hard cash for that. Needless to say, I went right over there and grabbed it.
Included with the digital version of Richard’s Book of Hours is a commentary by historians Anne F. Sutton and Livia Visser Fuchs, which offers insight and explanations for the text.
Richard III is possibly one of the most controversial English kings. He’s the one they dug up from underneath a public car park in Leicester in 2012, and re-buried in Leicester Cathedral in 2015. But that’s not why he’s controversial.
Richard is the key figure at the centre of the “did he, or did he not?” debate about the demise of the ‘Princes in the Tower’. Of course, nobody really knows. There’s a lot of evidence that he was the most likely suspect, but there’s also a number of good arguments for other parties being responsible. The fact is, we’ll probably never know.
Either way, the Tudors very cleverly had Richard portrayed in both history and popular culture as the entirely self-serving, greedy, murderous, deceitful and manipulative hunchbacked king who murdered his way to the throne and effectively stole the kingdom of England from anyone who was more entitled to it than he.
That story was most famously perpetuated in Shakespeare’s play ‘Richard III’, which also caused him to be the most misquoted king of England ever. How many people actually believe that “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” meant that he was willing to swap his kingdom for a horse, presumably with the intention of escaping on it? In actual fact, even in Shakespeare’s play, he was saying that if he couldn’t get a horse to replace his own, which had been killed in battle, he would surely lose his kingdom to Henry Tudor. As I’ve pointed out to my own students, if Shakespeare had actually thought of making him look that cowardly and heartless about his own kingdom, he might have written it that way, but he didn’t. The Tudor bias in both the recorded history and in Shakespeare’s play did mean that for the last 550 years or so, most people have quite happily assumed the worst of Richard.
Richard’s Book of Hours suggests a different side to this man. Owning a prayer book is one thing; using it is another. Richard made personal notes in this book – a comment in the margin, a note about his birthday. Given the rarity of books at the time of Richard’s reign from 1483 until his death in 1485, one would be reluctant to write in a book unless they were actually using it. In some other similar books , there are occasional little notes written beside the text of the book by whichever priest was either writing or studying the text. We must understand, though, that it’s different than a teenager drawing winky faces next to the rude bits in Shakespeare.
One such note we can be absolutely certain was added by Richard to this book is “dolor”, which means ‘grief’. Having experienced the death of both his only son and then his wife, Richard was indeed a man familiar with grief.
When I consider the images of Richard’s Book of Hours, I think of a man who was conscious of his standing before God and who used this book daily. I think of the man contemplating his fate on the night before the Battle of Bosworth, where contemporary sources suggest he had a daily prayer book right there with him in his tent. He was a man who prayed. Those records also tell us that Richard participated in a service of Mass before going into battle. Obviously, I cannot vouch for his sincerity because I never met the man, but it does make one consider another perspective of this perhaps much-maligned king.
After the Battle of Bosworth where Richard died and Henry Tudor became Henry VII of England, Richard’s prayer book was gifted to Henry’s mother, Margaret Tudor. She didn’t scratch Richard’s name out of the front of the book, but she did write a short poem in the back that stated the book now belonged to her.
Thankfully, the book now belongs to Leicester Cathedral, who have generously shared it with all of us. Even in digital form, I find that very, very exciting.