Proposing a Collaboration


Today is my father’s seventieth birthday. He’s fit and healthy but a little bit sad because all his friends keep dying. Last year, it was his cousin, Ray, from a massive heart attack. The year before, it was Steve, the best man from his marriage to my mother and his best friend, and Lindsay, a work colleague and subsequent lifelong friend. This year, he already knows there will be more. These are all people he spent lots of time with over the years.

On Saturday, my sisters, their husbands and children, and I are gathering at Dad’s house for a low-key celebration. I hope he has a wonderful day.

While I’m there, I am planning to propose a collaboration. I’m a little nervous. I don’t do a lot of collaborations. And I don’t know what the response will be. Continue reading


Oh, Brother! (and Sister): Naming Fictional Siblings


Naming characters is always a great deal of fun, like naming a baby but without having to go through nine months of pregnancy and a painful labour. Well, naming the first few is fun, at least. But what happens when you have to name hundreds? And what happens when you have to name a very specific group such as brothers and sisters?

Would Edwina ever have a brother named Lebron? It seems unlikely. And why does it matter so much? Let me illustrate with a couple of real life examples.

I have a brother-in-law named Timothy. Timothy has a younger brother. Perhaps at the time his parents were naming him they didn’t realise that calling his younger brother Thomas might draw a few guffaws later in life. But it did. Yes, they are Tim and Tom. And now fairly frequent namesakes in commercials featuring brothers advertising indigestion medication.

I also have twin nieces. Fraternal twins but arriving from the same womb on the same day nonetheless. Before they were born, my sister was contemplating names and mentioned she was thinking about calling them Olivia and Vivian. “Liv and Viv?” I piped up. I think it gave her pause and when they eventually came along, they were christened Olivia and Lexi. (Lexi is the name of one of my other sisters’ cat but at least that was just something we could joke about within the family, not something that would plague the little girls their entire lives like rhyming monikers.) Continue reading

Who Cares About the Oxford Comma?


Who cares about the Oxford comma? Plenty of people, it seems. Many writers, editors and language purists have strong feelings about whether or not the Oxford comma should be used. Some have even called it “a hill” they’re “prepared to die on”, both those who are for and against it.

Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, has issued not one but two memos to his staff outlining his preference for the Oxford comma. And under the Trump administration, a preference must be considered an order for anyone wanting to keep their job. However, “[o]n semicolons, Pompeo remains silent; on long dashes — not a tittle.” (From “Secretary of State Pompeo Is Mandating His Oxford Comma Preference at State Department, Report Says” by Glenn Fleishman, Fortune, 19 September 2018)

So what is the Oxford comma? Called the Oxford comma because it is required usage according to The Oxford Style Manual, and also known as a serial comma or a Harvard comma, it’s the comma used after the penultimate (second last) item in a list of three or more items. Continue reading

Should I Stop Telling You What to Do?


Recently, I was scrolling through Twitter (as I do several times a day) when I came across a post from either someone I follow or someone who had been liked, retweeted or commented on by someone I follow. (It’s hard to tell sometimes.) The poster essentially said that unless you were Stephen King or some other bestselling writer, then he didn’t think he should read or follow any advice you might have about writing. Most of the comments agreed with him. Some even thought that the only way to improve was to write more (but not to listen to advice on how they might be able to write better).

I have no problem with Stephen King. I have his book On Writing. I’ve read it. I don’t consider it a Bible on the craft. I’ve written and published two books on writing myself. I’m close to completing a third. I don’t consider any of them definitive guides on writing. (Obviously, if one of them was a Bible on writing, I’d be a lot more successful than I am now and I wouldn’t have needed to write the other two.) I have many books on writing. None of them render all other books on writing irrelevant. Continue reading

How Many Different Ways Are There to Write About the Same Thing?


As the end of the year approached, I sat down to write another Christmas-themed blog post. I’ve had this blog for nearly four years now and this would be my fifth Christmas-themed blog post (because I did two in 2015 when everything to do with writing this blog was all so new and I had so much to say). I sat down and tried to write… but nothing happened. I decided I just needed to give it a little more thinking time.

I sat down a few weeks later and tried again. Still nothing. Because apart from the fact that I wanted it to be about Christmas and writing, I had no idea what I was going to write about. Continue reading

When Writers Become the News


What’s so hard about writing? All you need is a working knowledge of the language you want to write in, a computer (or a typewriter if you’re nostalgic or a pen and paper if you’re old-fashioned) and a little bit of time. Or maybe a lot of time. However long it takes, eventually the words will come. And you’ll be left with a piece of writing. You’ll be proud (and you should be).

Okay, yes, it can get harder after that. Editing, publishing, marketing, readers – there will always be someone who doesn’t react quite the way you had hoped they would to what you’ve written. Of course, that’s nothing to those who think the appropriate reaction to words on a page that they don’t agree with or don’t like is to pick up a gun and track down their author. Continue reading

A Little Too Close to Home: When Fantasy Becomes Reality


“Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind.”
From “Advice to a Prophet” by Richard Wilbur

I mostly follow other writers on Twitter, people I’ve never met or generally even heard of but who are the most supportive community you could ever hope to be a part of. There are also a few people I follow that I do actually know.

One of them, a friend and former non-writing colleague who is obsessed with things like renewable energy, electric cars and advances in technology, recently tweeted a link to a Gizmodo article with the headline “China claims to have a real-deal laser gun that inflicts ‘instant carbonisation’ of human skin”. His accompanying comment was, “Sounds too good to be true. The ability to put such an effective laser in such a small form and to be able to fire it, at least multiple times, have to be questioned until we see it.” A picture of the laser assault rifle, which looks a lot like those brick mobile phones from the 1980s except with a scope attached, was also included.

I’d seen a less descriptive headline and the same image on another website and scrolled past it earlier that same week. But the additional information in my friend’s tweet piqued my interest. I responded to him, “This sounds a lot like the storyline of a certain debut novel of mine…” He replied, “Ha ha yes.” Continue reading