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Friday, 29 June 2012

Making Time for Reading

Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit, and I suppose that this is neither innocent nor praiseworthy.

- Somerset Maugham


I was reading the other night and I came across the above. It was thought-provoking and made me wonder how often do we make time for such a delightful activity in our hectic lives. As a child I read voraciously - anything I could get my hands on - and all I wanted to do when I grew up was to become a writer. And now after many years as a journalist and war historian I find weeks go by without me picking up a book to read for just pleasure.

I have a stepdaughter who lives in England and she told me that as a child she was lucky to spend some of her school holidays in the south of France with Somerset Maugham. How lucky was that! Can you imagine living with a character writer of the calibre of Maugham and being able to study him at first hand.

I don’t know if all writers are the same but I find that some days it is impossible to sit down quietly and write something that is concise, sensible and soul-searching and ‘formidable!’

One last thought on the life of a writer by Maugham:

I am never so happy as when a new thought occurs to me and a new horizon gradually discovers itself before my eyes. A fresh idea dawns upon me and I feel myself uplifted from the workaday world to the blue empyrean of the spirit. Detached for a moment from all earthly cares I seem to walk on air.

So take heart all you fellow scribes!

Gabrielle Rothwell

Friday, 22 June 2012

Just WRITE, dammit!

Ah, it’s blog post day, my turn on the group roster, and the dreaded blank page awaits. How should I fill this week’s post? Borrow something clever from another blog? Repost an informative article? Or face the music and write something clever and informative of my own like a proper writer would.

OK, let’s assume for a moment that a proper writer gene is built in to my DNA somewhere (they can be elusive little buggers at times.) What can I share with my audience that would be entertaining and illuminating? If I mention technology, many readers will turn pale and look away. The idea of spending time on Facebook fills them with horror. The rest who have embraced social media will feel a pang of guilt at how much time they’ve just spent catching up with Facebook posts instead of working and rush off to catch up. Ditto Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest – all black holes of distraction where writers disappear for hours at a time instead of writing.

No, this blog post should be positive, helpful – even inspiring if I get it right. How about listing books that will help you to write better? There are dozens offering advice, and even more of it online in a plethora of forums and discussion groups – not to mention the grammar sites offering clarification on the smallest points of linguistic correctness. It’s all out there to find – you don’t need me to point it out to you. Google takes care of that.
There must be something I can tell you...

Hey look, the page has filled up quite nicely.  I’ve written a whole blog post just by sitting here and tapping the keys.  Seems the secret of success as a writer is to stay in your seat and write.

Happy tapping!


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Bev Robitai on adding time to writing

In today’s whizz-bang, ever-spinning-faster world, there are plenty of authors making a nice living by popping out books every couple of months. OK, the works are usually shorter than normal books, and they’re probably in a series so much of the world-building work has already been done, but how do the writers manage to get the quality level high enough to achieve the mega-sales that  keep them in luxury? How do they keep up with their clamouring fans and give them new stories so rapidly? And they’re still on Facebook every day as well! If you want an example of the sort of writer I mean, have a look at Hugh Howey and his ‘Wool’ series.

I find that writing is like cooking. Most dishes need not just the ingredients, but a specific period of time as part of the production process to bring out all the flavours and textures. You can’t make instant bread – you have to let the dough mature. Writing improves too with extra time spent on it. Not just to spot all the typos and grammar hiccups that snuck in while you were typing, but to allow you to think about alternative plot lines, cleverer responses, and all the little touches that would make the piece better.

But dammit I wish I could churn out slick little pot-boilers and make a fortune!

Note to self: allowing time for a piece to mature is fine, but don’t forget your deadline. Sorry folks, should have posted this on Friday! It is possible to take too MUCH time to get things right.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Internet tools can save the day!

We all have our favourite sites on the Internet and one of mine is Yahoo! Babel Fish ( As I’m writing a book about France and my French language expertise begins with ‘bonjour’ and ends with ‘merci beaucoup’, Babel Fish has proved without price.

But I’d like to tell you a story that, to my mind, elevates Yahoo! Babel Fish beyond the ordinary and into the fantastic (or if you are under the age of twenty – into the stratosphere).

Some months ago the mother-in-law of my neighbour, Sylvie, came from Korea to baby-sit one year-old Joelle while Sylvie went into hospital to have her second child. Mum-in-law could not speak English so when a crisis arose there was a real problem.

One morning, mum-in-law went out of the front door to take a packet of garbage to the rubbish bin up the driveway. The door closed behind her. Unfortunately, it was on a Yale and it locked her out and trapped the baby alone in the house. Mum-in-law was, understandably, hysterical.

She came over to us and all she could say was “baby, baby”. We couldn’t work out what the problem was and she couldn’t tell us.

Then my grandson had a brilliant idea. We got mum-in-law to the computer and grandson switched to Babel Fish. We began asking questions. Each question he translated into Korean on Babel Fish. They had to be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions as the Korean lady could not work the computer and of course the keyboard had only English keys.

We finally discovered that she had locked herself out of the house with the baby asleep upstairs. We were also able to ascertain that Sylvie was in the maternity ward of the local hospital.

Needless to say that thanks to Babel Fish all ended well. We phoned the hospital and spoke to Sylvie. I don’t know whether we interrupted her labour pains or whether baby Donelle had by this time emerged. In any event, Sylvie told us where the spare key was kept and we unlocked the front door to the grateful thanks, in Korean, of one very relieved lady.

Now, don’t tell me that isn’t a ‘happy-ever-after’ story, and all thanks to the Internet!

Jenny Harrison