Tag Archives: words

Wordy Wonders

At the end of last week, and into the weekend, I felt pretty rough. Tired, and washed-out, and hardly fit to string a sentence together. It felt, more or less, like I’d been squashed flat. Not a lot of fun.

However, it did have one upside, and that was this: I finally got time to watch a few old episodes of BBC’s Sherlock, which (I hate to admit) I haven’t been following right from the start. I’d only seen series three up to last Saturday, and one of my Christmas presents to myself was the box set, which includes every episode so far. So, over Saturday and Sunday I settled in with series 1. And it was good.

Now, there’s plenty to like about Sherlock. The cracking dialogue, and the excellent characters, and the clever plots (and, if you’ve got any familiarity with Arthur Conan Doyle’s original novels, the little references and nods, here and there, to the stories as they were originally written), and Mrs Hudson (who is just the best), and sweet, awkward Molly, and the deliciously unhinged Moriarty. Not to mention, of course, the main attraction.

Photo Credit: ashleigh louise. via Compfight cc  Every time you clap your hands, Sherlock and John get a new case!

Photo Credit: ashleigh louise. via Compfight cc
Every time you clap your hands, Sherlock and John get a new case!

Whoever cast Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson needs a knighthood (or damehood, or whatever). Their dynamic is perfect, and their acting superb, and just… yeah. I’m fangirling now, so I’d better rein it in.

Anyway. All of this is leading to a point, I promise.

During one of the episodes, Sherlock (not a man who chooses his words with anything less than precise, elegant care) drops ‘meretricious’ into a conversation about a recently discovered corpse. In surprise, Inspector Lestrade replies ‘and a happy New Year’, looking a bit confused. I laughed at that, not just because of the funny dialogue, but because of the sheer wonder of the word ‘meretricious.’ I repeated it out loud to myself a few times (which probably means it was lucky I was alone), enjoying the sound, and spent a few moments being glad that I’m a person to whom words are important.

Meretricious. Try it. You might find you enjoy saying it as much as I do. You may even find cause to use it in a sentence today, despite the fact that ‘tawdry’ or ‘tacky’ would do very well in its place. They just don’t sound the same.

You can’t help but admire a character who uses a word like ‘meretricious’ in a sentence without even thinking about it, can you? As a kid, I was often told I’d swallowed a dictionary, because a word with fourteen syllables would always be my first choice (despite the fact that a word with three syllables, which meant just the same thing, would have done equally well); I also had the classic reader’s problem of mispronouncing things, because I’d only ever seen them written down. I really admire a character who is written in a way which appeals to my vocabulary-loving heart, and it got me thinking about some of my other favourite words.

Pusillanimous. ‘Timid’ or ‘weak’.

Pulchritude. Meaning, slightly ironically I think, ‘beauty.’

Prestidigitation. Sleight of hand.

Susurrus (I share the love of this word with Tiffany Aching, which makes me proud). ‘A rustling, rippling, whispering noise.’ Or, if you’re Tiffany, ‘an immediate incursion into your world by another, and time to get out the frying pan.’

Mellifluous. A rich, honeyed, pleasingly musical sound.

Zaftig. A German borrowing, meaning ‘curvaceous and attractive.’ This word was used of me, once, before I knew what it meant, meaning I had to make a quick judgement call as to whether it was an insult or not. (It wasn’t). Sometimes I wonder whether my ignorance had a role to play in the way my life has subsequently developed. Oh, well. No harm.

Palimpsest. A manuscript which bears the faint traces of other, earlier words, either words which have been erased and written over or words which were impressed or embossed upon the parchment through a heavy-handed scribe leaning on another sheet.

Propinquity. A tendency, inclination, or attraction, or the nearness of things to one another.

There are many more, but here I must draw a line for fear of instilling boredom. I’m struck, while compiling this list, how many words I love the sound of begin with the letter ‘p’ and/or end in some version of an ‘s’. Strange, and inexplicable, and rather interesting – at least, to me. Words in all their loveliness please my nerdy little heart. I’ve often meant to compile a proper list of my favourites, and keep adding to it as I learn more – but that’s a job of work for another day, I feel.

Do you have a favourite word, or a Top 10? Frankly, I’ll be less inclined to like you if you don’t. Just saying.

 

 

 

Looking into the Abyss

As some of you will doubtless be aware, I am a person who is currently working on a novel. I am almost 58,000 words into that novel. Earlier this year, I wrote another novel (it came in at about 62,000 words, fact fans), and late last year, I wrote a third – the behemoth that was the first ‘Tider’ – which weighed in at over 150,000 words. I have written nearly 300 blog posts, many of which come in at around 1,000 words apiece.

That’s a lot of words, for one person, over the course of one calendar year. I’m not saying they’re good words, but still. I wrote them all. That counts for something. Right?

Image: wordmedia.co

Image: wordmedia.co

There are times when I sit and think about my writing, and where I want to go with it. I know I love it, and I don’t want to stop, but one thing that bothers me very badly is: what will I do if I reach a point where I really, truly don’t have anything left to write about?

Everyone knows this quote: ‘And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.’ This piece of wisdom from Friedrich Nietzsche has always interested me. It makes me think about how easy it is to allow yourself to get stuck into a particular way of thinking, and how hard it can be to turn your mind around when it over-focuses on something. Certain thoughts have that ‘abyss’ quality – you create a sort of ‘feedback loop’ inside yourself. You feed the abyss, and it feeds you.

If your abyss holds candyfloss and rivers full of rainbows, perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing. However, if you’re like most people, your abyss will tend to be full of nothing except darkness, and a howling wind will be licking its way around the sharp, pointed rocks that line it all the way down, like teeth around a gullet.

A writer’s greatest fear is lack of inspiration, I think. I tend to get a little worried when I read interviews with other writers where they talk about their ‘boxes’ full of ideas, or I see they’ve written hundreds of books already, or they mention that they have too many ideas to ever make use of during their lifetime. I get ideas, too, but not like that. Mine don’t come to me in a torrent, leaving me grabbing frantically at them in an attempt to salvage as many as possible before they get washed away. It’s more gentle than that – they come, dropping slow, into my brain every once in a while, in a completely unpredictable way. I have a list of ideas saved on my computer, but I don’t have hundreds of them, by any means. I have some, and I hope to have more eventually. I guess I’m not one of these people who is overrun with inspiration, so blessed by the Muses that they can’t get out of bed in the morning because their brain is too full; every time a flicker of an idea suggests itself to me, it’s a cause for celebration. I work hard to keep my eyes and ears peeled for ideas, and I work hard to craft them into sentences and – sometimes – into stories or even novels. It’s not an easy thing.

My abyss laughs up at me, in all its emptiness. It says ‘I have nothing. There’s nothing in here! Go on, have a good look. Shine a light into all my nooks and crannies. You won’t find anything, trust me.’ The abyss I can’t stop myself from looking into is the death of my inspiration. It’s the abyss of fear that, one day, the ideas will stop coming, and that if this does happen, I won’t have any idea what to do next.

Image: onthebridgeway.wordpress.com

Image: onthebridgeway.wordpress.com

I hope to finish my current book in the next couple of weeks. I already have my next project lined up, and when I finish that, I intend to redraft the book I’m currently working on with a view to getting it ready to submit. I have a book doing the rounds at the moment, and who knows but I’ll pick up some agent interest from that. I’m keeping busy, and so far this has stopped the abyss from chewing me up and spitting me out. I’m not sure if I can keep doing this forever, though. Once all my current projects have been completed, I am very afraid that there will be a hole in the road, or a wall of nothingness across my path. I dread the feeling of ‘not knowing’ – not knowing whether any of what I’m doing has a point, or whether any of it is worthwhile, or whether there is a way to bridge the gap.

I have to keep remembering a few truths about life. The first truth is: ideas are everywhere, and the only way to miss them is to stop looking. The second is: nobody really knows what they’re doing. Some people are better at pretending they do than others, but in reality we’re all just doing our best to get along. The third: there is no such thing as an inescapable abyss. The fourth: help is always there when you need it.

The fifth: the world is packed full of wonder.

Happy Friday. Keep your eyes on the road ahead, and don’t let anything knock you off your stride.

Image: pdpics.com

Image: pdpics.com

 

Tumblin’

So. I set up a Tumblr blog.

Ever since I did so, I’ve been looking at it little like this:

*bok?* *boooook?* Yes, exactly, Mr. Chicken. Exactly. Image: flickr.com

*bok?* *boooook?* Yes, exactly, Mr. Chicken. Exactly.
Image: flickr.com

It’s difficult for a person like me, who grew up in the Stone Age, to keep up with all this progress. I had just barely managed to get a handle on Facebook when suddenly Twitter burst on the scene; I resisted for years, but eventually caved. Now, every time I turn on my computer there’s some new and largely terrifying-looking technology staring me in the face, trying to convince me my life is meaningless without it. I’m finding Tumblr tough, I’ve got to say – it requires a level of coolness that I don’t think I possess. Not yet, at least. And as for Vine? Don’t even ask me. I set up a Pinterest page a while back, too – or, well, I opened a Pinterest account, which isn’t quite the same thing as pretending to have a Pinterest page, really – which also bamboozles me.

All of these have different passwords, too, of course. Sometimes I feel like a modern chatelaine, except my keys aren’t hanging from my belt – they’re rattling around inside my skull instead.

This is my chatelaine, because I am the *boss*, all right? All right. Image: nps.gov

This is my chatelaine, because I am the *boss*, all right? All right.
Image: nps.gov

Because my skull can be a bit porous when it comes to remembering things like passwords, though, I have them all written down on random scraps of paper, masquerading under codenames, too – I must get them all together, one of these days, so I don’t have to scramble around for half an hour to find a password simply in order to spent five seconds on a particular website. Every time this happens, I tell myself not to let it happen again, and yet it does, repeatedly – as soon as the search is over, you see, the decision to put away the password gets forgotten again. For a person whose working day is largely self-directed, I can at times be the most unorganised klutz in existence. At other times, however, I am more efficient than a cuckoo-clock factory, so let’s hope they balance one another out most of the time.

The benefits of Tumblr – at least, the ones I’ve seen so far – are many. It’s sort of a cross between a blog, Twitter and Pinterest, insofar as you can put up really small blog posts – more like thoughts, really – and you can ‘reblog’ images or .gifs or quotes or whatever you like from other Tumblr users. Because it seems a little less formal a space than WordPress, I went a little bit loopy yesterday and posted a poem to my Tumblr blog, one I wrote myself; it was an experiment, more than anything else, to see how it would appear on the site once I’d posted it. It taught me a lot about how to keep your temper when a document’s formatting won’t appear the way you want it, and how far my patience goes when something just won’t work, and the point at which I’m prepared to sacrifice my artistic vision in order to just get something to post to a website.

(For those who are interested: I’m not very good at keeping my temper when a document’s formatting won’t work; my patience (stretched thin at the best of times) doesn’t go very far when technological stuff refuses to cooperate, and I’m prepared to throw in the artistic vision towel pretty quickly if it means I can wriggle out of trying to figure out things beyond my intelligence level and get back to reading, or writing, or something else I enjoy. So, now you know.)

Anyway, so – a poem. Yeah. Written by me. I really enjoy poetry, but writing it is not my forté, at all. I love to read it, and some of my favourite books are collections of poetry – Sylvia Plath’s ‘Ariel’, for instance, which I often just dip into for the sheer beauty of it – and I marvel at how a good poet can make the whole world shimmer as you read. Anyway, if you do take the long and arduous trip over to my Tumblr blog, and you read the poem, don’t be expecting Sylvia Plath, is all I’ll say, but if you do read it I hope you enjoy it.

And before anyone asks – no, don’t worry. I’m not considering becoming a poet full-time or anything, so you can all relax on that score.

Trust me, I'm a President. There ain't gonna be no more poetry. Image: blogs.psychcentral.com

Trust me, I’m a President. There ain’t gonna be no more poetry.
Image: blogs.psychcentral.com

It’s Friday, and the sun is shining here, and I’m about to get stuck into another bunch of words. I hope your day is looking good, and that your weekend is shaping up to be a good one. And if anyone wants to send me some Tumblr tips, you know, feel free!

 

 

It Has Been a Long, Long Time…

So.

This past weekend – which, for my husband and I, comprised Sunday and yesterday as he was working on Saturday – we pretty much had an internet blackout (besides my brief blog yesterday), and we read. He read a book which he loved – ‘The Forever War’, by Joe Haldeman, and I read three books, all of which were utterly unputdownable. My brain feels like it spent the weekend immersed in double cream; this morning, my head is spinning like a drunkard, high on dreams.

It has been a long, long time since I sat up late into the night, desperately needing to finish a book, wiping away tears with one hand and frantically turning the pages of a story with the other. Last night, that’s exactly what happened. Last night, I was reading ‘The Book Thief’, by Markus Zusak.

If you haven’t read it already, then I strongly recommend you drop whatever you’re doing (it couldn’t possibly be as important as reading this book), and get your hands on a copy, and read it. I’ll even allow you to download it to your e-reader, if you must, though I’d much prefer you had it in the flesh, as an object of beauty in your hand. If you have read it, then I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Image: tumblr.com

Image: tumblr.com

I can’t even… there’s no way I can even talk about it yet, because it’s too present in my head. Do you know what I mean? I’m still living in the book. I’m living in the basement of Himmel Street 33, huddled under the dust-sheets, waiting. My brain’s too full to process the brilliance of this novel, but as soon as I am able I will write about it, and I will – I hope – convince you, if I haven’t already, that books have the power to change the world.

The other books I read this weekend were ‘ACID’, by Emma Pass, and ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio. Here are their lovely jackets – and, in case of ‘Wonder’, a little slogan which pretty much sums up the book:

Image: nosegraze.com

Image: nosegraze.com

Image: blog.waterstones.com

Image: blog.waterstones.com

I fully enjoyed both of these books, too, and I’d heartily recommend them both. Reviews will follow in the next few weeks, once my brain has had time to let the stories settle.

This morning, I’m almost painfully aware of how extremely lucky I am to be literate, interested in books and able to appreciate stories. Honestly, I truly believe books increase my soul. Every time I read a book I love, I gain another layer, like an oyster gilding a piece of grit into a beautiful pearl. Every book I read makes me better. I can’t express to you how much I love that.

It may not have escaped your notice that I also read quite quickly. In two and a half days I managed to read three books, two of which are quite long. (Actually, technically, I read three and a half books, because I was halfway through another story, which I also managed to finish over this weekend. But we won’t count that.) I remarked over the weekend that reading, for me, sometimes feels like I’m just inserting the book straight into my brain; it’s like watching a DVD, almost. I read so fast sometimes that I wish I could retrain myself, or re-learn the art of reading from first principles, perhaps. I wish I could read more slowly, particularly when it comes to a book as beautifully worded as ‘The Book Thief’; sometimes, I really feel like I’m missing out. I don’t skim – I do read every single word – but sometimes I feel I don’t leave them to sit in my brain long enough to really absorb the full goodness. When it comes to words, I’m definitely a wolfer, not a gourmet. ‘The Book Thief’ has some of the most beautiful phrases I’ve ever read, and it is packed full of brain-jolting images, which caught my soul and made it pause, contemplating. But the pauses would have been better if they’d been a bit longer.

I feel a slower reader would have taken even more than I did from a book as rich as ‘The Book Thief’. A slower reader could have allowed the story and the writing to seep into their bones even more powerfully than I was able to. I’ll have to read the book again (not that this will be any burden) to get the full and proper effect. Sometimes, I find myself consciously trying to read slowly – making myself savour every sentence – but it rarely works for long. My natural pace catches up with me, and I race off again like a greyhound after a hare. I wonder sometimes if this happens to me due to my personal combination of curiosity and impatience – I couldn’t have slept last night without knowing what happened at the end of ‘The Book Thief’, of course. I had to know what happened to Liesel and her family; I had to know what happened to Max. I had to know who survived. There would have been no point in trying to go to sleep before I’d reached the end, and I knew that.

I’ve been reading now for a long, long time. My parents encouraged me to read from such a young age that I was cramming in whole books before most kids have stopped drooling on themselves, and I’ve always been grateful for this. It means I’ve put in a lot of reading practice, but in this case I’m not sure practice makes perfect. Practice makes me go faster, but that’s not always the best way to experience a story.

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned here? If so, what did you think? Also, do you tend to read slowly or quickly, and do you have any tips on how to change your ‘reading style’?

Happy Tuesday. And I’m not joking about ‘The Book Thief’. Seriously. Get a copy today.

Starting Early

Did you see this wonderful news story yesterday?

For those who don’t do clicking, or who can’t click on links, I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. Yesterday on Twitter someone linked to a story about a novelist who has just published his second book, and who is writing the final part in his trilogy about a pair of magician brothers. The books explore dark magic and the twisty intrigue of secret magical societies, as well as the complicated relationship between the brothers. The stories sounded amazing enough as they were, but when it emerged that the author is nine years of age (yes – nine), well. You could’ve knocked me down with a feather.

Joe Prendergast, for it is he, is far from being the only author who has been published at a tender age. Irish author Claire Hennessy, for instance, was first published while she was still at school, and Catherine Webb had written five books by the time she turned twenty – and all of them were brilliant.

Both Claire Hennessy and Catherine Webb are still writing, and have carved out successful careers for themselves in the literary world. Hopefully, then, if young Mr. Prendergast wants a career as a writer when he grows older, he should have no problem achieving that aim.

The young and talented Mr. Prendergast himself! Image: independent.ie

The young and talented Mr. Prendergast himself!
Image: independent.ie

It’s wonderful to see this young author meeting with the support and encouragement he needed to finish his series of books, and not only that, but to see them through to publication too. It goes to show the brilliant things that can happen when a person with talent, determination and a great idea for a book meets the technology to get it out into the world; Joe was first spotted by an online publisher, who championed him and made his books available through their website. There are also fantastic sites like Wattpad, used by millions of young people all over the world, allowing them to write for the sheer joy of it and share stories with one another with ease. Sometimes I wish these things had been available when I was young and at school. I’m not saying that anything I was writing at that stage was worth reading (not by a long shot!) but it would have been such a thrill to be able to publish work to a website, to see your words somewhere outside your own head, and to imagine what it might be like to be a published author.

Then again, I was a terribly shy and awkward teenager. I’m not sure that I’d have availed of a service like Wattpad, or even WordPress, as a young person; the very idea that other people might be able to read what I’d written might have thrown me into a fit of nerves so serious as to be life-threatening. I was certainly writing – prolifically – as a nine-year-old and all the way through my teens, but it’s probably a good thing that nobody ever saw a word that fell out of my fevered brain. Then, on the other hand, if I’d had the chance to share my words with the world via the internet as a younger person, perhaps I’d be winning literary prizes right now and be working on my thirty-fifth book – the earlier you start to get feedback, the stronger your work will become, of course. It’s a bit of a pain to be only beginning the whole process now, as a person in her *cough* thirties. I can only imagine how much stronger my writing would be if I’d been doing it seriously for twenty years or more at this stage.

Then, I guess it’s better late than never. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make up for lost time in the years that I have left to me. And if you’re a person who wants to write (no matter what age you are), then let this story be a lesson. You’re never too young, or too old, to get your ideas out there and share your words with the story of the world. There’s no excuse these days!

Today, April 23rd, is also an important day in the world of books, in case you didn’t know already. As well as being the birth (and death) day of Shakespeare, and the birthday of Cervantes, it’s also World Book Night tonight.

Image: mediabistro.com

Image: mediabistro.com

Designed to encourage and foster a love of reading among people who may not otherwise take up an opportunity to pick up a book, World Book Night is a fantastic endeavour. For, of course, if we’re going to encourage people to write, we’ll need to recruit a whole new batch of readers, too. I don’t think there’s anything more valuable that we can give to our children than a love of reading and a desire to create, share and consume stories. I’d love to see a world where reading, and a love of reading, came to people as naturally as breathing. I have a suspicion the world would be a happier place if this could be a reality.

So – start early, whether you’re reading or writing; ideally, do both. It’s never too late to start, and it’s always worth giving it a go.

Happy World Book Night! May your words flow.