Weeding words (not in an Elmer Fudd sense)

This is my incomplete but sometimes useful list for when I am down in the weeds of editing. I’m sure you will have your own lists but these are the words, phrases and elements of punctuation that regularly get the secateurs treatment.

Words:

  • actually
  • almost
  • appeared to
  • by (unwanted passive writing alert)
  • could
  • definitely
  • hopefully
  • in fact
  • just
  • less (vs fewer)
  • little
  • perhaps
  • quite
  • rather
  • really
  • seemed to
  • so
  • while
  • with (see ‘by’)
  • would

Plus:

  • any adverb
  • American spelling or not (depending on where you’re standing)

Punctuation

  • too many commas (or too few) – I, over-comma
  • hyphens – I over–hyphen
  • semi-colons – I love semi-colons; too much;
  • double full stop at the end of  a sentence or paragraph..
  • double  space following a full stop
  • missing full stop at the end of a paragraph
  • “” vs ‘

Feel free to add your own items in the comments box below.

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Exploring the real world… it’s a dog’s life

(James writes a monthly column for The Gudgeon. Each month, the previous month’s article is archived.)

May, 2018

You know that moment at night when you look up into a clear sky, and it just looks dark and empty, and then suddenly you see one star and then another, and soon the entire upper region is full of the things? Well, I’ve had the same experience with dogs recently. Not up in the sky – that would be worrying – but pretty much everywhere else.

I’m a dog-friendly person. When I was young and the continents were forming I had a dog called Scamp. I learned to walk by dragging myself up on his ears. We went everywhere together, Scamp, me and his ears. Unfortunately, Scamp was training-challenged. His idea of going for a walk was to run as fast as he could until he was a tiny dot in the distance, and then hurtle back until he was a tiny dot in another distance. It was pointless throwing a stick or a ball, he would just eat it. He had two states of being: asleep and massively excited.

Scamp would have been massively excited to live in Bradford on Avon. He would have made so many friends; eaten so many balls. Every evening Sally and I walk beside the river and double back along the canal. We chat about the day, watch the wildlife, admire the narrowboats, think about which beermonger to stop in – but recently, all I can see are dogs. And every time I see one I shout, “Hey, Sally, we’ve got to get a dog,” and then I bore her with the same old tale about how Scamp was once so massively excited to see my granddad sitting in a chair that he ran down the hallway, skidded on the floor, jumped onto my granddad’s lap and urinated all over him.

I love that story.

Anyway, I have a theory – the dogs are running Bradford on Avon. There, I’ve said it. They’re busted. We’re onto them. They’ve organised themselves, formed committees, possibly issue newsletters, and they are in control. They own us. Seriously, next time you see a dog and a human attached to a lead, ask yourself, who is walking whom?

Look at the evidence: pretty much every pub in Bradford on Avon is dog-friendly, and most of the cafés and restaurants too. There are dog clubs, dog walking services, dog boarding establishments, doggy day care, poop-scoop areas (although I have to ask: what is going on with those black bags hanging in trees?) and places to attach leads. I searched online for “bradford on avon” “dog sitting” and it returned 3,980 results in 0.62 seconds – and our broadband is really slow. There’s no doubt, this place is dog heaven.

And surely the centre of dog operations is the wonderfully impressive Doghouse in the middle of town. This is obviously Dog Council HQ, the hub, the nerve-centre. Those clever canines distract their owners with coffee, cake and a shop full of useful accessories, and make their dog decisions and issue their dog orders while they are being professionally washed, groomed and nail-clipped. I wonder if, now that I’ve gone public, my name will appear on their agenda?

So it’s out there: the dogs are in charge and I can only be thankful that Scamp isn’t here because he definitely wasn’t cut out for high office. Who knows what decisions he would have made – he would have unleashed (pun intended) dog anarchy onto the streets of Bradford on Avon.

It is strange the things that Sally and I talk about, now that the nights are light we can’t see the stars on our evening walks.

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The Wrong Story reviews

The Wrong Story has been out in the world for a year now and it has attracted a number of reviews. I thought I’d list a few here (good and bad).

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#AmBroadcasting

IMG_8374I had a great day today. Helen Ottaway, Karen Stewart and Sheila Hedges invited me to their On-Air Book Group and gave me the platform to discuss An Other’s Look and crowdfunding in general – and they gave a big shout-out for where to pledge. It was so enjoyable and I will definitely be listening to their book group next month.  Thanks to everyone at Frome FM for making me very welcome.

FromeFM is a Frome based non-profit community radio station run by Frome Community Productions CIC. Produced by over 100 members, it broadcasts new programmes every month online and on 96.6FM. FromeFM provides niche music programmes; Frome focussed debates and reportage; sustained support for and coverage of the work of community groups; and radio for children.

It’s just great.

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Exploring the real world… crossing the bridge

(James writes a monthly column for The Gudgeon. Each month, the previous month’s article is archived.)

April, 2018

I am more popular than I used to be. Friends and family who used to wince when they saw me now ask if they can visit for the weekend. They pop in on their way to Wales or Cornwall, or their yurt in Devon or their tepee in the Forest of Dean. I’ve had to buy extra bedding and a blow-up mattress just to keep up with demand. They bring their pets. Their children eat my biscuits. I can change a bed in under a minute.

My partner, Sally, wonders if my new popularity has anything to do with us moving to a town of genuine charm, in one of the most attractive parts of the UK, but I just smile when she says that. Popular people have to put up with these jealousies.

When our guests arrive I like to give them a tour of the town even if they don’t want one. And I always start with the town bridge. I say that three things are likely to strike them when they cross the bridge: (1) the piece of social history that is the old lock-up; (2) the glorious copper-gilt weather vane (aka the Bradford Gudgeon); and (3) the wing-mirror of a passing car.

Let’s face it, it can get a bit tight.

I suppose that’s the nature of old bridges – they’re narrow. Especially a thirteenth-century packhorse bridge that was widened just once in the seventeenth-century to accommodate ‘larger’ traffic. Seriously, what were they thinking back then? Surely they could have foreseen the mirror-to-mirror width of a modern long-wheel-base panel van.

As we cross the bridge I ask my guests to watch out for yellow jackets. Not the wasp variety, nor the cyclists who whizz past, nor even the fluorescent caterpillar of pre-school children who, from a distance, look like the Minions from the Despicable Me films; but the people in high-visibility yellow jackets who work to keep us safe.

The Lorry Watch volunteers.

The bridge has an 18-tonne weight limit. I know this because there are signs that say so on the roads that lead into Bradford on Avon – albeit a few are a bit bent and battered. And the Lorry Watch volunteers keep an eye on the traffic that crosses the bridge, just in case a driver has missed the signs and discovered that he or she are having to squeeze their fully-laden 4-axle articulated truck over a pedestrian-lined bridge that was originally designed for a horse and cart.

This is important work. I used to cycle in South London, along Streatham High Road, between Brixton and Croydon, and I know what it’s like to be up close and personal with a moving vehicle that is three hundred and fifty times heavier than I am. It focuses the mind.

The Lorry Watch volunteers are out in all types of weather reminding drivers of the bridge’s weight limit. I should imagine it’s a job that can be under-appreciated, especially by drivers who are trying to get from one point to another and have inadvertently strayed into their scrutiny. But I appreciate it, and I show my guests the work they do so that they can appreciate it too.

Back on the tour, we cross the bridge safely and I point out the shops, the churches, the parks, the canal, the river, the railway crossings, the restaurants and all the pubs. I talk in a loud, ill-informed, scattergun way that only a newcomer without any training in tourism can. Sally says that I’ll have them wincing again in no time. I say I want a yellow jacket.

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For you to read

I’d like to tell you why I’m so excited by An Other’s Look that I can override my natural awkwardness and ask people to help me; why I am willing to thump the drum and rattle the cup and toot the whistle for pledges.

An Other’s Look is my second novel and builds on all that I thought I had learned when writing The Wrong Story. In this book I wanted to write about journeys and change and transitions, and I wanted to exorcise a few personal demons. I wanted the writing (and the reading) to be fun and I also had some unfinished business with three of the characters from The Wrong Story – Germaine, Tom and Gerard.

But two months into its writing I realised I hadn’t learned as much as I thought, and I had to go back to basics – and I mean basics: what the hell is a story anyway?  I knew where I wanted to go, I just didn’t know how I’d get there. As part of this reboot I thought I’d just let my characters talk and butt out while they did so. I’d let them chat to each other while I tried to figure out what to do.

But what happened was that their dialogue and interactions took over and drove the story forwards faster than I could type it. I’d found a working method that just flew. What emerged six months later was a story with plot lines that all converge on a lonely and isolated Spanish peninsula town called Las Sombras, in north-west Spain.

Hence the thumping and rattling and tooting. I can’t wait for you to meet these characters – the damaged academic, Germaine Kiecke;  the bereaved artist Tom Hannah and his new young muse, Alta; the Machiavellian Gerard Borkmann; the ageing voice-over artist Charles Cubberley, his Belgian wife Margot and his fellow actor and nemesis, Roger Pendleton; the sinister hotelier Rodolfo whose wife and father-in-law have both gone missing; his avenging sister-in-law, Luisa, and his wan, ghost-like son, Claudio. I even want you to meet the characters in Germaine’s parallel, augmented reality world of the Happy Family game.

After all, I wrote it for you to read.

(An Other’s Look is currently being crowdfunded by Unbound Books. You can pre-order a copy and support its publication by following this link.)

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Frome FM (96.6FM)

If you fancy some lunchtime conversation, tune into the Frome FM Book Club (96.6FM or online) on Friday, 27th April, at 1pm. I will be talking about An Other’s Look and how I came to write it.

I’m doubly excited about this because we’ll also be discussing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen. My book in such exalted company!

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