I did not go gently into last night

Instead, I lost sleep over some utter twerp who had no grasp of the subject he was opining on.  Worse, when it was correctly pointed out that ‘I am tired’ is not an example of the passive voice, he went on the attack: ‘why do you say that? What evidence have you got? I can prove it is passive…’ And then he put forward an argument for a weak verb, which is a creative writing concept, not a passive clause, which is a grammatical structure.

It’s the internet! What was I expecting?

I have the argument and the evidence to put him right, but Icouldn’t log in to share it without sharing my Facebook details with goodness knows who. And I’m not prepared to do that for a twerp.

So I switched out the light, muttered and ground my teeth for half an hour before switching the light back on and reading one of the delightfully old-fashioned crime short stories that my husband bought me for my birthday.

I’m tired this morning, and I’m still muttering about it.


So if anyone out there is having issues with an editor/critic who thinks every instance of ‘was’ is the passive voice, just let me know and I will happily explain it all, with references.



Must start putting my surname first

I’m about as anti-feminist as you can get. But I did find this blog about the effect of using a male nom de plume very interesting (I’d have reblogged it but I don’t know how).

I’ve worked all my life and have learned to avoid committees and meetings of all sorts if I possibly can because they are all talk and no action. Mainly it’s the men that do all the talking. The women (with a few exceptions) have been far more ‘right, so what do we actually need to do?’ This is the basis of my theory for women not doing as well in the boardroom – they can’t be doing with all that endless waffle.

The question is, when I start sending novels out again, should I switch my name round, as my real life surname is a man’s Christian name? Worth a thought.

I wish I knew more about e-media

Then I could probably just repost this rather than provide a link. I have done little writing recently, despite being ‘on holiday’ at home, mostly because I have been breaking several of the rules – not writing every day, even 150 words, not sticking to one project and not keeping off the internet (I’m on it now!)

As for his guru’s advice of not writing sentences of more than 10-12 words, I’ll have to think about this. Of course we don’t know if that initial book was written in English or not. But generally I totally agree with shorter rather than longer, and using simple words: my huge beef with academia is that proponents of it seem to be hung up on long, unnecessary words (‘psychologisation’ is my favourite unnecessary word to date): I think it says a lot that those academics who sell millions by popularising complex science do it in the words and ideas of the common man. That’s a skill that requires a vast amount of knowledge and understanding – not all of it scientific!




Witty and urbane or waffle and bilge? I know what I think…

I recently took out a subscription to Writer’s Forum magazine, mainly so I could keep up with my writing group’s successes. As part of the package I received a free copy of Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style. Having run out of things to read I dived in.

I made it to page 19 before I dived out again. And I admit to fully reading perhaps only 10 of the 19. Next I hit Google to see if there were any reviews out there that differed to the ‘superb, articulate, urbane and witty’ ascribed to The Times on the front cover.

First hit was The Telegraph. The Sense of Style: waffle and bilge. This summed up everything I’d pretty much concluded during my brief dip in those turgid waters. (Preston refers to Pinker as ‘a colossal windbag, never using 3 words where 35 can be rammed into the breach’.) I didn’t get to the chapter on ‘The web, the tree and the string’ with its diagrams highly reminiscent of a recent and mentally traumatic linguistics course, but intuitively warm to John Preston’s conclusion that

All this is reminiscent of those exhaustive analyses of why jokes are funny.

Next stop Amazon, and this is where things started to get strange. The reviews were mostly 5 star (45 of them). Hardly any of those had comments. But in the few 1 star reviews there were comments galore, mainly slagging off the 1-star reviewer.

Maybe this is normal. Maybe I should be taking more note of comments on reviews. The point is, I was for the first time ever moved to add my own comment. It was a long piece  in defence of the 1-star reviewers. I included pointing out to one commentator (commenter???) whose sole addition to the ‘debate’ was

‘quote’ is a verb, ‘quotation’ is the noun.

Errrr no.

‘Quote’ is a perfectly acceptable noun, as any dictionary will confirm. I suggested that particular commenter (I like the word even if it doesn’t actually exist) needs to note Pinker’s early advice on how grammar and use of language is constantly changing and evolving.

So, to anyone who is minded to dip a toe into Pinker’s style ‘guide’, I urge you to take note of the subtitle: The thinking person’s guide to writing in the 21st century. As Pinker himself admits in The Prologue (I kid you not, there is a prologue), it is written (also) “for readers who seek no help in writing but are interested in letters and literature and curious about the ways in which the sciences of mind can illuminate how language works at its best.” Note that Pinker is a cognitive scientist and public intellectual. It says so in the author blurb.

Caveat emptor.

Undoubtedly the author is knowledgeable, but if you are a writer of fiction wanting to know how to improve your authorial style, I suggest there are much more pragmatic books out there than this. If you are interested in fields related to Pinker’s psycholinguistics, or enjoy dissecting jokes to distil the essence of wit, this might be the book for you.

I would just like to draw your attention to the admission in the first paragraph of the first chapter. When Pinker contacted writers to ask which style manuals they had consulted in their apprenticeships, most said ‘none’. “Writing, they said, just came naturally to them.”

’nuff said.


Today in the garden

I know, I know, two posts in one day.

But as part of my ‘what can you live on if you only grow it yourself’ experiment’, I have just had the loveliest salad for tea, just from stuff that was lying around in the garden.

It included:

  • Rocket  – overwintered and looking very impressive, just starting to flower
  • Swiss chard – also overwintered
  • Beetroot leaves – yes you did read that right. It’s closely related to Swiss chard and the young leaves (overwintered, they are just starting to grow again) are great in salads
  • Parsley – (overwintered…)
  • Celery leaves – A disaster from last summer that we never dug up…
  • Kale – some of last year’s crop self-seeded into the paths between the vegetable beds
  • Chives
  • Lady’s mantle, yes, that old English weed. I found numerous plants I hadn’t planted that were just sprouting fresh green leaves…


I’m fortunate in having Jekka McVicar’s book on herbs * which tells you exactly what you can and can’t eat, even if you don’t recognise it as a herb. Dandelions, for example, bitter hairy cress (which I’ve been pulling out hand over fist for a few weeks) and, I now know, Lady’s Mantle.

Curry plant trailing from a basket right outside the kitchen door
Curry plant trailing from a basket right outside the kitchen door

We have moved so far from the land we forget these things.


The other thing I discovered in the herb book was the identity of the mystery plant hanging out of a wall basket by our back door. I can’t honestly remember buying it, but it’s a curry plant. It is thriving despite being systematically ignored. I pulled off a sprig and boiled it up with some basmati** this week. What a delicious, but subtle, flavour. Probably now I know what to do with it, it will start to wither and fade.


*this is book 2. I’ve only got book 1. It seems I could have added daisies to my dinner plate.

**technically not on the ‘what can I eat from the garden’ project, but I don’t see why my husband has to suffer from my foibles…