Monthly Archives: August 2012

Thesaurus or Dictionary ?

ThesaurusPhil: Part of the subscription deal for Writers-forum magazine was that they would throw in a free Websters compact dictionary or thesaurus. All I had to do was decide which one I wanted. That and remind the guy who took my order on the ‘phone that he was supposed to ask but we’ll put it down to him having a bad day.

Do I need either ? Probably not. But if a freebie is offered, I’m going to take it. The sound of relatives spinning in their graves if I didn’t would keep me awake. Serves us right for burying them under the floorboards instead of a proper graveyard…

Dictionaries seem pretty useless in the age of the spellchecker. I know that we have to pay attention to its suggested versions of our mis-typed words but honestly, do you ever get a book out for this ? I know I don’t. Normally I know that a word is wrong (apart from it having a wiggly line underneath) but due to being a thicky I can’t tell how it should be spelt. Once I see the suggestions I reckon I can normally guess the right one. I have the same affliction with numbers – I can do maths (despite what my exam results suggested) but often use a calculator so I can see the numbers. If it gets them wrong though, I can usually spot it.

If I want to know what a word means, and if I do then I probably shouldn’t be using it in the text, then Mr Google is my friend. My typing is faster than my page flicking.

The same tool can help me with the tasks a thesaurus might perform. Type “cake synonym” into the search engine and I get results. Not, it has to be said, as prettily formatted, but the effect is the same.

In the end I went for the later. I only write on a computer and the spell checker tends to be built-in to the software but I aspire to work away from t’interweb occasionally so Google will be unavailable. I know there’ probably an App for this but I quite like the uncluttered layout of Websters thesaurus and was quickly able to look up my first word.

Thesaurus.

Synonym – Dictionary. Did I get 2 for the price of 1 ?

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Bank Holiday Boredom

Candice:  You may noticed I’ve been a bit quiet over the last week or so.  You may have thought it was down to my decision to step away from the communications tools, but no, it was related to the Noro virus.  For those of you who don’t know what this is, lets just say 12 hrs of vomiting is not the best way to spend a Tuesday night.  And then to spend almost a week laid up from it has left me with the fidgets.

I hate being ill. It’s OK at first, but there are only so many Escape to the Country‘s you can watch, in between naps.  And when you can’t stomach any food or walk down stairs without being wobbly the whole thing gets rather depressing.  I am also some what of a gym bunny, and the first time I went for nearly two weeks was yesterday and even then I didn’t have much energy.  ARGH!

Then to cap it all its the famous English Bank Holiday weekend which equals … rain.  It’s not actually started yet but its due at any moment.  Now, yesterday was lovely but today makes you feel like getting your boots and thermals out.  In fact, I couldn’t believe the number of people walking round the shops yesterday, when the sun was out, in jumpers and boots.  It’s not over yet you know, that whole summer thing.   (Aside here, when people complain how crap the summer has been, but then insist on wearing winter clothes when it is nice, I have no sympathy for them).

So, really and truly this should be a good writing day, whole day, no work, rain… but ’cause I’ve been cooped up for the last two weeks I need to get out!  I’d usually hit the shops but with all the winter clothes in I’m not ready to buy anything yet, and we don’t need any thing for the house (mainly ’cause we’ve just put it on the market).  So what to do… well we are off to go and find a gold postbox.  And to find out what that means – click on the link!

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Sci-fi short stories

Space 2 and all Asimovs Robot Stories.Phil: When Candice mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she’d met someone who write for Starburst magazine and that perhaps we ought to think about some sci-fi short stories, it sent me scurrying for my bookshelf.

While I own a huge number of books, very, very few of them are fiction. Those that are, are probably sci-fi because I like that sort of thing. Ignoring the complete set of Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books (which I have as well as all the radio series on CD and the TV series on DVD but don’t mention the terrible film) this leaves three books, two of which you see in the photo.

Whatdayaknow ? They are all short stories. Space 1 and 2 are compilations of shorts and the fat book is a collection of all Isaac Asimov’s robot stories.

Which makes me wonder why. I’ve read proper fiction at book length, but I didn’t want to keep it. Chatting this over with the Nolan, we both have the same problem. Reading a book is a voyage of discovery. Once you’ve been through this, a re-read isn’t as much fun. Thus, the books are destined for the charity shop to be replaced with something new but for some reason, I kept these.

As far as science fiction goes though, I’ve never been into the big books. Asimov wrote many short stories but also his magnum opus, the Foundation Series. I tried to read this, but like Frank Herbert’s similar Dune series, I couldn’t get into it. Monumental fiction doesn’t grab me. I’m sure that when you get into it, you love it. I can’t.

It’s not just books either (God this post is making sound really nerdy) but TV too. Start Trek is fine. I can handle the Next Generation of the same. Each episode is a story. Move on to Deep Space 9 or Babylon 5 (I know the later is a different “universe” but the point is the same) with its massive story arc that provides fans with endless hours of internet chat and I really can’t be bothered. These guys aren’t just writing about worlds but entire star systems with a breadth of imagination that makes the Total Perspective Vortex in Hitchikers seem sensible. (For the non-geek, this is a torture device where the victim is shown how unimportant they are in the whole universe. It’s powered by fairy cakes, thus justifying its place on this blog). I prefer to stick to a single species in a story, maybe two if pushed.

Be warned though, giant sci-fi can catch you when you least expect it. As a youth, I dabbled with the Perry Rhodan series of pulp fiction books. I foolishly thought I could read the set but then discovered that this German (translated into English, I’m not that clever) series actually ran to more volumes than there are people on the planet. When you find number 136 on the shelf of a bookshop, you get the message that there is more to this than you thought. My excuse is that I was introduced gradually with some fun stories and found myself hooked…

Anyway, I’ve re-read some of the books and you know what ? They are pretty good. Not too geeky – good sci-fi takes a real plot line and simply transfers it to a fantastic location or time – and very interesting. If nothing else, all this has made me re-discover some excellent writing.

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Investing in my writing

Phil: Being quite happy with quality of the feedback we’ve received from Writers-forum for our last short story, We’re planning to submit another entry. It’s ready, edited, polished and perfect, or so we think.

Checking the entry details, to take part costs £6. This is cut by half for subscribers to the magazine – so, I wonder if it’s worth subscribing. After all, this is £36 or the money saved on twelve entries. Can you see my Scottish and Polish blood lines coming through ?

Anyway, a trip to WH Smith sees me the proud owner of a copy of said magazine. It’s got a nice shiny cover and decent quality paper (I do work with other magazines, trust me, this is important). Settling down with a mug of tea and a little cake, I start to read. You know what ? It’s really not bad at all. I know you can’t really judge a magazine by a single issue (unless my byline is in there, in which case it’s as good as you get) but I pretty quickly find a couple of pieces that set me thinking which seems like a good thing.

I also have the chance to read the winning short stories for September. These don’t seem anything like as good as ours, in fact I can’t get through the winner at all. The judges might think it “sucks them in” but I only agree with one of those words. It is useful to read other people’s work even if I don’t like it, the skill is working out exactly what I don’t like and trying to learn from their mistakes, or at least understand why I might be wrong (surely not).

Anyway, the website is down so I make a quick phone call and hand over my credit card details for a years worth of magazines. If I am serious about writing, and I am, then I need more input. Ignoring the money for a moment (I’ll get that back with 10 miutes worth of sales once The Book gets published) I need to make time  to read this stuff. You can’t learn by osmosis, the mag must be read from cover to cover every month, in many ways the investment is more in time than money. It’s certainly quicker than a college course in creative writing and cheaper too. Who knows what I might learn, or what opportunities will appear to be grasped ?

Writers-Forum website

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Needs some work but has potential

Gold starPhil: Can you take criticism on the chin ? The answer to this question divides the members of team nolanparker it seems.

We recently entered a short story into the monthly Writers Forum competition. For an extra fiver, you can request personal feedback and so, being keen to learn, we did.

The feedback arrived. An A4 (electronic) sheet with some suggestions. They liked the title, thought the presentation could do with work, didn’t feel the opening was especially compelling or that one of the characters was fleshed out enough. Also, the dialogue drove the story forward but could do more to aid the characterisation.  The conclusion was “Needs some work but has potential”

I read it and was impressed that someone really had taken the time to read and comment on the piece. I didn’t expect to win any prizes at our first attempt but you have to start somewhere and for a fiver, it was well worth it. I fancy re-working the piece and then putting it out there again. The comments seemed fair to me as we are aiming high, and not pointlessly harsh. We might think it’s a wonderful story but you can’t expect everyone to see this until you are mega famous at which point they don’t wish to look stupid by pointing out the emperor has no clothes.

My friend on the other hand, took it less well – “I read that straight away, thus putting a damper on an afternoon when they didn’t tell me we were the next JK Rowling.  If I hadn’t jumped to that email there and there I might not have ruined my afternoon!”

How can we be that different ? Am I too laid back ? Is Candice too thin-skinned ?

I’m not ignoring the comments – far from it – but I don’t take them personally. We aren’t JK Rowling yet (It could have been worse, imagine if the comment had been “You are the next E. L. James“, that would have caused a fuss !). No, feedback part of the learning journey. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger etc. etc.

But, there is a problem. It can’t be denied that Nolan is a far more succesful high-flyer than I am. Maybe I am too laid back ? Maybe I should take criticism to heart. Perhaps if I was wracked with distress it would fire me up to do better, or would it make me want to give up entirely ?

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Information overload!

Candice: Does anyone find the multiple forms of communication out there a little over whelming? I’ve found recently that I am struggling to deal with the number of ways people can contact me.  Currently I have:Stressed : stressed woman with telephones in her hands. isolated on white

  1. a Linkedin account
  2. Two business email accounts – for my company
  3. One work email account – for where I am currently working
  4. a Twitter account
  5. a Facebook account
  6. Text
  7. Mobile
  8. Home Phone

Writing it all out like that makes you realise just how many ways there are to be contacted or get in touch.  Help, I’m drowning in over communication.

Obviously I have a Blackberry to keep an eye on my personal stuff but have taken to emailing friends and family from work as I seem to be constantly keeping up with things – ‘have you answered that text/email?’  I get home from work and that last thing I want to do is answer the phone or log on.  And then, of course, there are the blog posts to maintain.  It’s hard because I am still maintaining my business while working this contract, as well as trying to keep my Twitter and Facebook life active (as marketing experiment as much as anything else) and keeping an eye on extra’s working coming through, ’cause if you dont jump on it quick you don’t get the job!

The other half even said to me earlier – I have to get BBM as my friend in Dubai only uses that else I cant keep in touch with him.  WHAT!

Phil and I have recently had some feedback on our short story submission (more details to follow soon) and I read that straight away, thus putting a damper on an afternoon when they didn’t tell me we were the next JK Rowling.  If I hadnt jumped to that email there and there I might not have ruined my afternoon!

So I’ve decided to take a bit of a sabbatical from the bleeping red light on my phone.  They used to be called ‘crackberries’ and I can see why. I also read somewhere that we are now struggling with a syndrome where we actually feel ill if we can’t look at an incoming message or text.  I know the feeling, I got one during dinner last night and you are itching to read it while eating your dinner.  How sad is that.

So I’ve decided when it comes to my personal emails that I am going to be checking them less often, lunch breaks and convenient times not all the time.  Twitter, well that’s more addictive than Facebook so I am dialling that down for a while too, else I seem to spend most of my evenings retweeting things.  The pull comes when someone answers your question – I find that little blue bird more addictive than the bleep or a text.

It’s all about self control I think, teaching yourself not to reach for the phone every time it makes a noise or the light flashes.  Otherwise, one will go slightly insane!

As the American’s say ‘Timeout’

How do you find it in the modern age?

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Follow the golden brick road

Olympic medalsPhil: I promise this is my last attempt to jump on the Olympic bandwagon. Before I give it a rest, there were a couple of moments in the whole jamboree that gave me pointers for our efforts.

The first was an interview with Dave Brailsford, performance director of British Cycling and the man all Frenchmen hate. He explained why we Brits are better on two (especially round) wheels than anyone else. Put simply, he and his team broke a cyclists life down into tiny little chunks. Then they looked at each chunk to see how it could be made a just a tiny bit better. Although each improvement was very small, together they added up to a big improvement.

As an example – hand washing. You wouldn’t think this makes much difference, these are bike riders after all not surgeons and if you look at cycle couriers, they don’t look the most hygienic people in the world but seem to work the pedals OK. Apparently though, proper hand washing means less illness. Not big illness, but the sort of “under the weather” feeling that for most of us means hiding behind a computer at work but for the Hoys and Pendletons adds hundredths of a second to a lap and keeps them off the podium.

Translating this to The Book, that means going through each section of text and seeing how it can be made just a little bit better. If every page is tighter, faster and funnier, the end result is happier readers. Detail matters.

The second lesson came from Samantha Murray who won silver in the modern pentathlon’s post event interview.

“If you have a goal, anything you want to achieve in life, don’t let anybody get in your way because you can do it. There are so many people and so many things that are trying to set you back. Find a path that you want to take in life and follow it and stick to it. If I can do it, I’m a normal girl. Anybody can do anything that they want to do.”

‘Nuff said.

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