Saturday, 31 December 2016

Capitalizing Hyphenated Compounds


I write and I edit and I regularly discuss matters of grammar and style. One of my clients recently asked:
"Quick question about which parts to capitalize. The all-seeing Governor, or The All-Seeing Governor ??? Or should I use italics?"
My first thought: is there such a thing as a quick grammar question? :-)

There's some flexibility here, and an author could get away with any of these options: the main thing is to be consistent and make a note of which you go with, in your own style guide document.

1. For one-offs where it is just a description, you could just capitalise Governor (since that's his title/replacement name). "The all-seeing Governor." That's the simplest option.

2. However, if you want it to represent your protagonist's official secret name for him at that point, you would capitalise the prefix, and that's also acceptable. This raises a question. Would you just capitalise the all-, or the second part of the hyphenated word too? All-seeing Governor, or All-Seeing Governor? Well, that's up to you, again as long as you are consistent. Although style guides differ, I'll just go by what my main one, New Hart's Rules, says about how to treat hyphenated compounds:
The traditional rule is to capitalize only the first element unless the second element is a proper noun or other word that would normally be capitalized:

First-class and Club Passengers
Anti-aircraft Artillery

In many modern styles, however, both elements are capitalized:

First-Class and Club Passengers
Anti-Aircraft Artillery
So as you can see, both All-seeing Governor, and All-Seeing Governor would be okay, depending on whether you opted for the traditional or modern style. Pick one, stick to it!

As to italics - used here it would imply a sneer. So you could have a scene where the Governor was talking about omniscient God whilst fumbling for his glasses, and you could ironically italicise all-seeing - it would be a sneer of derision and would have a definite effect. But it isn't an effect you'd want to over-use. In most cases I wouldn't use italics for the words describing the Governor. Like capitals for shouting, it draws attention to itself, and therefore works best and has more effect if used sparingly.

I'll try and cover questions such as this (and some to do with substantive editing and plotting) more often on my blog if they are useful to readers.

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Thursday, 22 December 2016

Twelve Books Of Christmas - They Move Below


Today I was honoured by the Nerdish Mum book blogger. They Move Below was included in her excellent 12 Books Of Christmas list. I am so chuffed I can't tell you! I don't celebrate Christmas (because I am a weirdo) but this is like all the ones I skipped rolled into one ball of something with icing on.

You can read her Day 10 article about They Move Below here.

(And you can buy my book if it tickles your fancy like a dainty cake.)

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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Even In My Dreams


I generally write short stories, novels and novellas because ... well, that's what I'm good at. That's what I sell. In the past I have also written plays, articles, songs and poems. The formats are all connected by a love of words.

I recently contributed some of my poems to a book called Even In My Dreams, aimed at raising money for a worthwhile cause. The writers and editor all donated their time and work; none of us make any money from sales. I'm proud to say that all proceeds go to an animal sanctuary.

Even in My Dreams: A collection of vegan poems was released as a print book in November, and will be out in e-book format soon (I'll update this post when that happens - in the meantime, keep an eye on the book's Facebook page). It's available via Amazon, Lulu and other places. The editor also runs a magazine - find out more about that on Facebook and Twitter.

I contributed three poems.

Caged is a poem drawing parallels between experiences. Sample lines:
A stench like loosened bowels and acrid smoke,
Sharp throbbing from the legs upwards, hot head.
Voices assured her she would be okay.
I wrote Coventry after attending one of the live export demos there. Sample lines:
I try to get nearer to the fire, among the crowd.
I smell the smoke - everything smells of smoke.
And The dog is running madly round the office is just a bit of fun after I heard the tale of a real dog running happily around a civil service office one day. Sample lines:
Rebel dog defying civil servants,
How cool you are, a canine insurgent.
Maybe I should dig out some poems and include a couple in my next book. For some of you that could make it my greatest work of horror yet. (Bdum-tsch!)

I should also do a post about being vegan one day. Some people might think veganism is "only about animals" in a kind of us-and-them attitude. Not true. Humans are animals too: Homo sapiens, Order Primates, Class Mammalia. Yes, we're mammals too. So when vegans support animal rights we are also supporting human rights; it is why so many vegans are also involved with social justice issues, fighting sexism and racism alongside speciesism. As a philosophy of respect it often goes beyond animals, ultimately to also extend protection to the planet as a whole. I went vegan over 25 years ago. Still here, still enjoy a chip butty and pint of beer, still eat chocolate like a decadent monk.

I've only just got round to mentioning this book release, but it seems appropriate at a time of year that many associate with kindness and giving. :-)

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Friday, 16 December 2016

Keeping Your Author Details Up To Date


I sometimes write about "the business of writing" with its own tag that covers writing, editing, publishing, formatting, promotion: all sorts of tasks that a writer might be involved with. I also share tips in writing groups; a few people told me the tip I'd shared today was useful to them so I thought I'd include it here too.

The image is a checklist I made for when the blurb or cover of one of my books changes, or if my author details (bio) get updated. I then work my way down the appropriate column. It's a way of controlling the mass of information related to that task and a useful guide for keeping track of where I need to update the changes. I just use simple Word tables so if you're an author feel free to make your own based on that idea (with your own sites and distributors).

Note that I also have more formal services for other writers.

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Friday, 9 December 2016

Sad Books, Readings, Performance

Me. Doing a reading. Yonks ago.

And while I'm on the subject of storytelling ... a member of one of my reading groups said they were in the mood for a sad book and asked for recommendations. One book that springs to mind is Watership Down by Richard Adams - a book so sad I can't even read it. Just knowing what it's about makes me want to cry - reading it now with the knowledge of how much more has been lost would be too much for me.

But I remembered something else that deserved a mention. Last year one of the writing courses I went on was Writing Women’s Popular Fiction led by Julie Cohen and Rowan Coleman. At the start of the course I saw something profound. Julie did a reading from Rowan's book We Are All Made of Stars and it brought a room full of adult women to tears. Literally. Sniffing and hankies and everything. It was a powerful experience demonstrating the impact good words can have. A book should always make the reader feel something: fear, sadness, excitement, intrigue, arousal, whatever (it depends on what genre tickles your pickle). A book without feeling is an empty book.

(Note that We Are All Made of Stars isn't just a sad book: Julie described it as "such a beautiful, sad and happy book. I love it so much.").

The spoken word is important. As an act of communication it can transfer emotion. I believe the ears are less of a censor than the eyes, so the words go straight into your brain. You will read the words "I love you and I hate you" in one way, but different speakers will perform that phrase a hundred different ways. Angry, softly, shouted, sneering, plaintive, emotionless. And 94 more (trust me, I counted). I studied Classics at university, translated poems that were never meant to be read on a page, that would have been oral performances spanning several evenings of entertainment. Thanks Homer et al. (If you want to know more about Greek oral performances, read my article on Ancient Greek Drama.)

It's one of the reasons I enjoy well-narrated audiobooks. I'm proud that my first audiobook is now available and was so convincingly performed by Rosie Alldred. Performance is the key word. You can't skip ahead. The story will unveil itself at its own pace.  And the story has more chance to surprise you. Or shock you. I once wrote a nasty character piece: a dramatic monologue about a man describing his wife's death. I read it out to a group of fellow writers, and afterwards the room was silent. The anger I felt while reading aloud communicated itself only too well. One of the audience later wrote about it:
"Another interesting thing was that Karl read a powerful, challenging story [...] Karl’s story was an assault on the psyche of everyone in the room. It was vile, repugnant, out of control, despicable - and deliberately so. At the end of the story, the response was not an intellectual one of “I like what you did with X, but not so keen on Y,” rather it was a coming to terms with the emotions we were each feeling, and why we were so appalled, and what it mean for the person in the story. It was an important lesson."
Written words do not assault the mind as spoken words do, because we can shut our eyes and take the power away from the words on the page; we can not block out another person, cannot close our ears, so easily. If the story is an accusation then we can't help but identify with the accused. It's the identification with another being that powers most fiction. And, so help us, this world needs a lot more empathy.

Anyway, it's one of the reasons I enjoy doing readings, even when the story isn't an intense one. Here's an old one I gave at Aberystwyth Arts Centre; and one I gave at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff (you'll need to turn the subtitles on for that, it wasn't a pro-recording).

Okay, that's enough of me. Go have a read of Julie or Rowan's books. Listen to an audiobook. And have your say. What's your saddest, most heart-breaking book? Have you ever been affected by or really enjoyed an author's reading? Cheers.

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