New Year… Same Old Me

Yesterday I mentioned that I was not at all sorry to see the end of the year.

Still, I admit to feeling uncomfortable with the number of “new year, new me” posts on social media in the past 24 hours. 

New year? Undoubtedly. New beginnings? Sure. 

But I am not a “new me”. 
I am the same old me: the one who survived the trauma, grew stronger through it, and resolved to keep going. 
I am the me who worked hard for every one of my achievements: nobody else was ever going to do it for me. 
I am the me who stood tall in the face of false friends and two-faced people, and then walked away and slammed the door on them for good.
I am the me who refused to be intimidated by those who don’t understand me… the me who will not be ashamed of who and what I am.
I am the me who embraces creativity, individuality, and difference… and encourages others to do the same. 
I am the me who encourages young people to choose kindness and reject hate. 

Those are all good things. Powerful things. Brave things. 
I have earned them, and I will own them. 

I’m not perfect. I still have things to learn and growth to accomplish. 
But those who would prefer a different, more comfortable, easier-to-live-with me? They can go and boil their heads, because that’s not going to happen. 

Is The Novel Dead?

The title of this blogpost caught my attention this morning.

“What?” I thought. “How could anyone think that?”

For me, the novel is most certainly not dead. There is still nothing as wonderful as escaping into a book and finding myself immersed in its setting, caught up in its action and carried away by the story.

Short stories and novellas are fabulous when life is busy, because I can achieve those escapes in the time I have available. But when time to read is more plentiful, a good novel is a marvellous thing.

The novel will never be dead as long as there are great books to read. I’m fairly confident that, given the quality of the new books I have been reading, it’s not likely to be happening in the foreseeable future.

And on that note, I take exception to the original writer’s suggestion that self-published books are rubbish, and therefore partly to blame for the demise of the popularity of reading. Blame the obsession with screens of whatever size, and with the Internet and social media, and I’ll gladly concur, but leave Indie authors out of it. As I’ve said plenty of times before, I’ve read some absolutely brilliant self-published books, and I’ve read – or attempted to read – some tragically bad traditionally published ones. Let each book stand or fall on its own merits, I say.

I feel sorrow for any reader who is so disillusioned by their reading that they believe the novel is a thing of the past. More than likely, they have simply been reading the wrong books.

If you’re interested in great Indie book recommendations, follow Book Squirrel.

Richie Billing

A couple weeks ago, an article by writer Damien Walter grabbed my wandering attention. The title: I STOPPED READING NOVELS LAST YEAR. I THINK YOU DID TOO.

I was curious. So I had a read and discovered that Walter is a professional book reviewer, even had a regular sci-fi column for The Guardian. He’s experienced and well-respected and fed up of the novel.

Why?

For Water, the novel lost its magic. It no longer has the same magical feel as it did when he was a kid, “spending afternoons at the local library, selecting books as though I was selecting magical portals to step through. Then I would rush home and lose myself in the magic for hours, days at a time.”

Walter recognises the influences modern-day phenomenons have had on us. Here are some of my favourite quotes from his piece. I’d recommend reading in full too. He’s an…

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The Myth of Writing Every Day: Realistic Tips for Increasing Your Productivity

Everything Jodi Herlick has written here is true: the snark, the realism, and especially the advice about self-care. Her words provide a very real reflection of my own writing experience.

Whatever your experience is, whatever your writing pace, and whatever the other demands on your time, each of us can only do what is achievable within our individual limits.

The takeaway is this: You do what you need to do, and write your own way when you’re ready. None of that is for anyone else to judge.

Jodi Herlick

We’ve all heard the well-intentioned advice: Write every day. It always seems to be spewed by privileged people who have a flexible schedule or a stable income without a day job or who have somehow managed to eschew all other commitments. And while there’s truth to the advice–I certainly find that writing is easier when I’m doing it consistently–for most of us, the pressure only leads to a cycle of despair that actually reduces our creative output.

Image result for crushing despair gif

So if you’re not one of the privileged few, here are some tips for getting all that daily writing in:

  1. Find yourself a wealthy significant other/sugar daddy/sugar mama/patron who will support your daily writing habit, and maybe buy you bonbons to munch on too.
  2. Wake up three hours early and get your writing in before your day job. Then hope that no one notices that you’re sleeping at your desk or in front…

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Under Pressure.

If this past week had a theme song, it’s definitely ‘Under Pressure’ by David Bowie and Queen. 

The pressure of juggling job, family, and other commitments has been huge, simply because there was a truckload of stuff I had to get done and all of it had deadlines attached. The problem was that I was relying on other people to do certain things, too, and when that didn’t happen, I had to do more.

There was not anything I was willing to skimp on, or give it a “that will do” treatment. My students deserve to receive the help and attention that they need, and my elderly father deserves nothing less. Exams are approaching so papers have to be graded and feedback has to be given. Exams have to be finalised for checking, printing and delivery. I had a student teacher finishing a placement, so there was extra paperwork to do by Friday afternoon. 

And this weekend is full of auditions for ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, which I am directing for Camperdown Theatre Company next year. 

I am not complaining. I know I am not the only one who is busy, and these are all things I have taken on willingly. But that is actually part of my argument.

What I want to achieve in this post is to point out that life is full of demands and commitments, and managing one’s time is crucial. 
Whether a professional, a student, or in any other role in life, it is an essential life skill to be able to get things done to the best of one’s ability in a timely manner so that deadlines are met. 

For me – or anyone else – to be able to do that, other people need to pull their weight and do what is expected of them. Nobody operates in a vacuum, and one person dropping the ball or refusing to pick it up in the first place has flow-on effects that they might not ever see. 

The often hidden effect of someone not doing what they should is that others can’t actually meet all their obligations either. 

On the occasions when my own students don’t get their work in on time, that puts me behind in getting their assignments graded and in giving feedback that would help them in completing future pieces of work. It can also put me behind in writing reports, which can  cause other people further up the school “food chain” to be behind in what they need to do, too. 

On those days when I end up working late at school to meet my own commitments because someone else has been slack in meeting theirs, it either means my dad has to wait for his dinner or whatever else he might need, or that my husband, who already works one and a half full time jobs and does all the things I can’t do at home because of my back, has to do extra at short notice. That’s not fair on either of them. 

It isn’t always avoidable, I know. Some kids have issues that crop up, others have a lot of responsibilities. It’s also both fair and important to say that it’s not always the students who cause the issues, either.

More often than not, though, it’s a the result of someone’s laziness or poor priorities, and that tends to annoy me fairly quickly. 

In my dream world, everyone would sort their priorities, manage their time, and get on with doing things to the best of their ability. Nobody would be let down, and we could all enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done without extra pressure making things harder. 

Absurdity.

Am I missing something? Is there a new ‘Absurdity’ genre of stories that are not intended to make sense? 

I have read two books this week that promised much but delivered nothing other than almost complete bewilderment. They didn’t make sense at all. 

Yet both had received four and five star reviews. I have absolutely no idea how. 

Surely a basic requirement of writing a story for someone else to read is that it needs to make sense? It needs to mean something, to communicate an idea, or to at least not leave the reader perplexed.

I don’t understand how those books are meant to be enjoyable.
If someone else likes them, that’s great, but they are not for me.

Misunderstood Shakespeare: The Balcony Scene

Pretty much anywhere you go, whoever you talk to, if they know only one thing about any play by Shakespeare, it’s the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. It’s possibly the most famous scene ever written. 

There’s just one problem with that:  there was no balcony. 

That’s correct. 

There. 
Never. 
Was. 
A.
Freaking.
Balcony. 

In the script, the stage direction is clear: JULIET appears above at a window. 

Not a balcony. A window. 

You can read the entire scene and see that not once is a balcony mentioned. 

I don’t know who invented it, but it was a killer idea that I bet Shakespeare would wish he had thought of, were he still alive today. 

Of course, directors can stage a play however they like, and make use of whatever structures and sets the theatre provides.

Filmmakers can do likewise, but one must keep in mind their tendency to just change whatever they want. Hollywood is notorious for that. The mayhem that comes from mass misunderstanding occurs when directors think they know better than the author, and when people watch a movie instead of reading the book.

It makes people and their assumptions about the original text wrong, and leaves them marinating in their wrongness until their wrongness is so commonly accepted that most people think it’s right. 

It just goes to show that what your English teacher always said is true: there really is no substitute for reading the book.

‘Definitely’ and ‘Defiantly’ Are Different Words.

I am still coming to terms with the fact that this post needed to be written. How do people not know these are different words?

Apparently, though, it’s an all-too-common problem. Social media is littered with posts where someone has answered with “Defiantly!” when what the responder really meant to say was “Definitely!”.

It happens in my own conversations several individuals on a regular basis. In fact, it happened again just yesterday, so I took a screenshot with this blog post in mind.

Yes. I most definitely did turn my friend into a hamburger to protect their identity. 

I don’t know whether autocorrect is to blame, presumably as a result of poor typing, or if it’s just plain old-fashioned ignorance. The answer to that probably varies from one perpetrator to another, but  either way, continuing to mistake one for the other is inexcusable. 

Definitely means “for sure” or “absolutely”. 
In fact, those are excellent choices for anyone who wants to agree with something, but doesn’t actually know how to spell “definitely”. 

Here’s a hint, though.
Definitely even sounds exactly as it is spelt: def-in-it-ely.
It’s phonetically straightforward.

Therefore, anyone trying to spell it should get to the ‘a’ in ‘defiantly’ and know they’re making bad choices. 

Defiantly is a word most often used by parents or teachers describing the way in which a child refused to do as they were told. 
Examples:
The child sat in stony silence, arms crossed defiantly. 
“No!” Robin yelled defiantly, “I won’t apologise for being a grammar snob!” 

You get the idea. 

It’s definitely in your interests to get this right.

Make good choices, people… please?

‘Then’ and ‘Than’ Are Not The Same Word.

Some word confusions are understandable, especially if they sound the same when spoken. We call those homophones, and they sound the same even if they are spelt differently.  Examples are peak/pique/peak or there/their/they’re.

The confusion between ’then’ and ’than’, however, is a completely different matter.

Sadly, this is happening more and more, especially on social media. I don’t even spend that much time on Facebook, but it feels like I see someone saying something like “Nothing is better then this!”  or “I love you more then anything!” at least twice a day. 

Yes, they are similar. 
However, they are clearly not the same.
They don’t look the same.
They don’t sound the same. 
If one doesn’t mix up ’then’ or ’than’ with ’thin’, there is no excuse for mistaking them for one another. 

I swear, it makes my eyes want to bleed.

The two words’ meanings are so vastly different that getting them wrong just makes the person writing look  either poorly educated or plain stupid, even if they are neither. 

This is one of the best and most self-evident arguments in existence for proofreading what one is writing, anywhere and every time. 

‘Then’ rhymes with ‘when”— which is an easy way to remember that it relates to time or sequence. 
Examples: 
He put on his shirt, then his jeans, and then his boots. 
She ran up the hill, then back down again. 
When you have tidied your room, then you can go to the movies. 

‘Than’ rhymes with ‘man’ and is used for making a comparison. 
Examples:
His piece of pizza is bigger than mine. 
A triangle has fewer angles than a square. 
I would rather stay home and read a book than go to work. 

Knowing which is which, and taking care to use the right words all the time, is a simple way to protect your credibility.

And for the love of Merlin’s beard, if you call yourself an author or a teacher, get it right. It’s not that hard. 

Misunderstood Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true”

There are thousands of images of this quotation in various fonts, or in hand-drawn calligraphy, as a caption on tee shirts, jewellery and even furniture, and as “motivational’ tattoos on Pinterest and Instagram. 

I cringe every time I see one of them, especially the tattoos. A photo can be deleted; a tattoo, not so easily. Don’t get me wrong: I love tattoos. I have six of my own. But the quote doesn’t mean what all those people think it does. 

The quotation comes from Act 3, Scene 3 of Hamlet in which a man named Polonius admonishes his son, Laertes, for still being at home instead of already on board the ship that is going to carry him to France, and insists that the ship will be waiting for him. Polonius then proceeds to keep on talking so that Laertes is even more delayed than he originally was. He cannot resist taking that one last opportunity to give Laertes a few pieces of “expert advice” to take with him as he leaves home and makes his way as a man of the world.  

At the end of the lecture he drops this bomb: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

These days, people tend to interpret this as Polonius encouraging Laertes to be proud of who and what he is, to be individual, and embrace his own character in an early modern version of “you do you”. 
Sadly, that is not the case. Polonius is not a candidate for any “Enlightened and Sensitive Parenting Award”. 

The intention behind “to thine own self be true” is neither about resilience or integrity. What he’s really saying to his son is “Screw everyone else. Put yourself first, do what you want, and don’t worry about what other people might need or want.” 

Nice, eh? Because what the 17th (or any other) century needed was more selfishness and arrogance from over-entitled, egotistic men.  

Rather than promotion of healthy self-awareness or individuality, this quote is, in fact, really bad parental advice given to a young man by his father who happened to be a self-important, pompous ass who liked the sound of his own voice far more than anyone else liked it. 

I’m all for healthy self esteem and individuality. We should definitely be promoting that. But we should also be promoting respect and tolerance for others and the ability to consider their needs at the same time, and Polonius was never going to be interested in any of that.

Don’t follow any advice that comes from Polonius, kids. Hamlet was 100% correct when he called him a rat. Neither he nor his self-serving philosophy deserves your respect. 

Well… That Ended Badly.

I read a book this week that I was really enjoying. It kept me hooked right to the end, and then came the death blow: a sudden, out-of-nowhere, poorly executed ending. Without warning, or even the slightest hint that it was coming, the story just stopped. 

I hate that. I hate it so much that I am deferring writing my review until I’ve got over my annoyance at it. The story was so good, and the characters so interesting, that I was completely absorbed in it. And then? Suddenly, POOF! It’s all over. 

I dislike cliffhanger endings to books at the best of times. 
This one was not even the best of times.
It wasn’t really a cliffhanger, either. It was more like the whole book got snatched out of my hands and thrown over the cliff, and might never be seen again. 

It was possibly the worst sudden ending to a story I’ve ever experienced. It made me think that maybe the author did not know how to properly end a story, even though they obviously knew how to write the rest of one. 

I fully understand why authors design those suspenseful endings – they want to keep readers guessing and anticipating what comes next so they’ll read the next book. 

Here’s the thing, though: if the book is good, I’m going to buy and read the next one anyway. If the writing or editing is poor, or the storyline is weak, a cliffhanger isn’t going to make me buy or read the next one. 

If there has to be a sudden ending, or a cliffhanger, there should at least be enough resolution in the final chapters to answer some of the questions raised in the book. By all means, leave questions unanswered. Just— not all of them. 

I do quite like suspense and anticipation.
I love the sensation of looking forward to the next book.
I do not enjoy an ending that leaves me wondering if the author’s computer crashed and the final chapter was irretrievably lost. 

I read a lot of books, and for me, a quality conclusion is as important as the opening paragraphs. You can win or lose readers right there, regardless of how good the rest of the book might be.