Custom Search

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Why don’t dyslexic writers untie?

Quite by accident I recently come across a news story about a dyslexic boy winning a national writing contest, but the fact that this was seen, and reported, as almost miraculous news made me think about people’s perceptions about dyslexics and writing in general... Not that I’m belittling or taking away from this boy’s achievement in any shape or form, he’s obviously much better than I was at that age (and probably still am) and has a great deal of potential to become a good writer. But it’s not ‘in spite of his dyslexia’ it’s because he inherently shows promise as a writer.

I really got strong undertones of the normal ‘Aww, didn’t he do well’ arrogance, accompanied by a metaphorical, if not possibly even physical, head-pat. Well, yes, he did do well. He did well because he’s probably already a better writer than most of the cooing condescending onlookers can or will ever be. So why don’t they have that attitude with non-dyslexics? I even read one report that talked about him ‘overcoming his learning-disability’ with the inference being that he was able to compete with ‘normal’ students... Aww, didn’t he do well.  
A little further digging showed that this instance was far from an isolated case. Someone with dyslexia winning writing or literary awards isn’t that an unusual occurrence. It seems to be far more common than you may expect, but still, on each occasion the story is based on the fact that they are dyslexic, not on their achievement. It saddens me to think that we may not have moved the public perception on much since my terrible time at school. It’s attitudes like this that put me in remedial classes from primary school. I was eventually able to educate myself to post-grad level after leaving school, by being able to do things my own way. I don’t personally see this as exceptional, although I also got the 'didn’t he do well' attitude. I think it’s simply something they should have helped me with at school, although there obviously are truly exceptional dyslexics out there, Richard Branson to name but one.

Monday, 19 November 2012

It’s almost Christmas again, and I’ve hardly wrote a thing this year...

Other things seem to have taken over my life a bit lately; pushing my writing into a very poor second, or sometimes a sad third; still, at least I know what my new-year’s resolution will be. I’ve been thinking of ways to get myself ‘back on the horse’ lately as I think a bit of a metaphorical, or possibly physical, kick would get me up to speed again.

With this in mind I’ve discovered a few writers groups that aren’t too far way. I’m just not sure about approaching them. Is there an entrance requirement? Do I have to saunter up cap-in-hand and say “Hello, my name’s Garry and I’m a writer?” Would my cap-full of short-story publications and extensive collection of rejection letters be enough to prove this?
Seriously though, writers groups and writing courses have always held a bit of a fascination and more than a touch of mystery to me. Although I have had 'professional' writing experience as part of my work, you could say I’m pretty much self-taught as far as fiction writing is concerned, having never had any formal fiction writing education or tuition. I wouldn’t want to find myself in the middle of a classically educated ‘literary’ crowd, where I’d probably feel like I was trying to write ‘Janet and John’ books to their ‘War and Peace.’

I’d be interested in people’s experiences or perceptions of writing groups and of formal writing courses, whether they are distance-learning or college based.
Do all on-line or mail-based courses fall into the ‘We can make you into a PUBLISHED writer in 60 days!!!!!’ category or are there genuine legitimate ones that are worthwhile?
What’s your experience with college/university based courses, whether they lead to a qualification or not, are they more or less worthwhile?
And not to forget those writers groups and workshops, are they helpful, and who is likely to attend?

Monday, 15 October 2012

Writing for fun or profit

Yes, ok I’ve heard the old ‘people who only try writing to make a quick profit will never make it’ truisms many times before, and I’m sure most ‘wanna be’ or beginner writers would agree with this. You have to want to write first, and then want to become good enough at the craft through diligent practice and learning to become publishable. And although everyone’s definition of ‘publishable’ is different, it’s only really the editors/publishers definition that matters.
I may be wrong here, but I seem to have noticed a distinct lack of the ‘fun’ part amongst the new wave of ‘beginners’ lately. Now, to set the scene, I would consider myself a beginner writer, and have done so for at least the past ten years. I say I’m a beginner because during this time I’ve only just scuffed the surface of the magical mystical publishable barrier. Although I would consider the substance (telling a cohesive story) and the technicality (the craft aspect) of my writing to have improved during that time I will always still see this as  learning until the increasingly unlikely event of me getting a publishing deal. It’s the last level of fine punctuation and grammar editing that remained my biggest bug-bear, and I can’t afford to personally employ a professional editor. But hey, that’s just me being grumpy again.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Book Festivals, good bad or indifferent?

I’ve been browsing through the latest events list for the Edinburgh Book festival again this year, and as usual I’ll probably try to attend something. I’ve generally turned up for at least a passing look at what’s happening most years for longer than I care to remember. Although I’ve seen some interesting things during that time, my most abiding memory of events-past is being stuck at work and missing the Terry Pratchett talk, something I really would have liked to attend ever since picking up a brand new just-of-the-press hardback copy of ‘The Reaper Man’ way back in my college years.

But is that the thing. Are they just pandering to our misty-eyed remembrances? Or to the poke-it-with-a-stick interest we have in the lives of the famous or controversial figures that generally turn up to promote their autobiographies etc. Is there still real merit to Book Festivals in our modern digital age?
One thing I have noticed is that there seems to be a lot more emphasis on promoting new authors this time around, something that has admittedly been growing over the last few years. Surely that can only be a good thing. As normal the ‘recognisable names’ are there. Paddy Ashdown’s talk on “WHY THE WORLD WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN” seemed to sell out quickly (shouting capitals and all!) while the more ‘literary’ based events take a bit longer to sell. Yes, I know that’s just the way things are. But it does make me wonder who is attending these events nowadays, and why. Are they avid book readers, does it matter? Should these festivals be trying to pull in the off-the-street punters? I would say yes, they should, the more ‘diverse’ the merrier. But when you sit in the book festival beer-tent and look around you see a very different crowed to those attending the seemingly less hi-brow events.

I see people sitting in bars or on benches or on a bus with kindles now, but I don’t think the majority of these readers would ever consider browsing around the book festival. It’s a perception thing, but I also don’t think the look and attitude of many of the attendees help maters ether.

So what do you think? Is there a future for book festivals in general?
Are they still relevant to our modern reading habits?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Writing in tongues. (Part 2)

I recently read an interesting article about fantasy writing on the BBC magazine site. 
The article, titled ‘Why are fantasy world accents British?’ looks primarily at TV shows and film, and explores the peculiar phenomenon of why most fantasy characters speak with Brittish accents, but its arguments and logic can equally as well be applied to the written word.

The article gives examples of the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV series, taken from the books of the American author George RR Martin, and the blockbusting ‘Lord of the Rings’ and upcoming ‘Hobbit’ films in support of its argument.
I think it does make a compelling case for appropriate regional accents, and it goes someway towards explaining why America audiences in particular, and the world in general, seem to like British-English voices in their fantasy fiction.

I read this article not long after receiving the news that one of my own short-stories written in my native Scottish vernacular (that I posted about before) is likely to be published in an upcoming anthology of ‘Scottish Voice’ stories. On reading the article I was reminded of the overwhelmingly positive response a draft version my own story got from American readers when I posted it to a critique site...

Friday, 30 March 2012

The lean, meme, writing machine...

I've been reading a book titled 'Epic Win for Anonymous' by Cole Stryker recently.
It's a, sort of, history of the Anonymous Hacker group and their rise to... notoriety, lets say... through the 4chan image-board network.
The book is a decent read if you like this type of thing, but that's not what this post is about. You see the first few chapters of this book explore memes in general and internet memes in particular.

Anyone heard of LolCatz? 

That's probably one of the most widespread Internet memes 'alive' today, and it was birthed from the rather fetid hive-mind that is 4chan.

Please don't be too tempted to go have a look though, as there are certain things you just can't un-see...

Anyway all this talk of memes got me thinking about how much our current memes are imbedded in today's writings, especially fiction writing. I think a lot of modern memes are present both in the finished stories and in the way we are now taught, or told, to write.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Anyone can be a writer!

...Or at least that's what a lot of the 'How To' books would have you believe. 
I read in the blurb of one such book that 'anyone who can write a letter can write a Novel.' But after looking at the ever-increasing pile of rejection notifications and  'one star' reviews I think most wannabe writers could be forgiven for being little sceptical of this advice.

Writing is a craft, and crafts can be learned and mastered. So in one real sense anyone could become a writer, that isn't a lie. But I don't think it necessarily means that anyone who can compose a decent letter can write a Novel. It's like saying anyone who can drive a car could become a top formula 1 racing driver. Maybe in theory they could, but unless they have the drive, not to mention nerves of steel, they won't get far in practice...

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Is there anybody out there?

I've just noticed a rather drastic drop in my monthly page-view count this month.
For the last eight months it's mostly been a good few hundred posts over a thousand, and never fallen below.
last month it was only just over 200! Has something changed with blogger, or with any major site that links on to posts in blogger?

Surely my blogs can't have got that bad that quickley?
Anybody else noticed a drop in their page-views last month? Have I missed something?

Monday, 27 February 2012

Writing-aide applications, are they any good?

I was reading thorough some blogs and forums lately and noticed a few people talking about some of the programs they use to help with their writing. From what I made out there are two main types of programs, the ones that are intended to help with the technicalities of your writing and the ones that let you store and organise both your writing and your ideas.
Now, the only application I’ve ever used to help with my writing is MS word, and the benefits of that ‘helping’ are dubious at best. Ok, so the built-in thesaurus is sometimes worth its weight in gold, and I do use the spell-checker... but I’ve learned that I should definitely not rely on it. I’m not too sure about it’s concepts of grammar and punctuation ether. And that leads me into the programs purporting to help with your technical writing. Now, suffering from a touch of dyslexia, as I do I was quite interested in context sensitive spell checking software, although I was also a bit dubious. Would it detect ‘theme’ instead of ‘them,’ possibly. But how about ‘bed’ instead of ‘bead’ ... probably no so much. Anyway I decided to have a look and begun some on-line trawling for example/demo applications.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Bloging is writing to...

That may sound like an obvious and redundant statement, but after recently discussing this I was amazed by how many people don’t seem to make the connection.
I suppose it all depends on what type of blogs you primarily read. I mostly ether read about writing from writers, or about gaming – from gamers, and yes there is a general  difference in both presentation and style. That’s not to say the writing blogs are always better written. I’ve read some very professional sounding and eloquent gaming blogs. Remember that most gamers, and perhaps especially most of the ones that have a blog, are at least in their mid twenties, and statistically most gamers are above thirty. Not the spotty teenagers writing in text speak that the media would have you believe they are.

I’m sure we all know that Blog is a concatenation of ‘’Web Log” and unfortunately there are bloggers that do exactly that... log their daily endeavours, or lack there off, onto their blog. But that’s no different from the same type of accounts on Facebook or Twitter. And where this type if thing is getting increasingly prevalent on those types of site, the rambling shambling blog is becoming rarer all the time, as better outlets become available for this type of ‘personal log’ site...

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Book tokens for Christmas.

As usual I got a certain amount of book tokens for Christmas again this year... well I say ‘book tokens’ but it’s not really old-fashioned, redeemable at the store ‘book tokens’ anymore it is? What I got were gift-cards, credit-card sized pieces of plastic with arbitrated amounts of money, and wishes of ‘buy something you like’ attributed to them. All too often this translates to ‘buy something that I can see is worth the amount of money I gave you.’ This isn’t to say that the gesture wasn’t genuine and sincere. However most people give a ‘token’ with the intention of the recipient getting something tangible that they (the sender) can see the person will actually like, and/or enjoy. And this is of course totally understandable. They don’t want you to waist or squander their gift.  This sometimes brings a bit of a dilemma for me though. The good thing about these gift-cards is that most can easily be used for on-line purchases. Often what I want to do is use the gift-cards on-line to buy e-books, and not necessarily all at once directly after Christmas. Unfortunately this doesn’t really give me anything to ‘show’ for my gift. And has resulted in some confused or even sorrowful looks from the gifters, along this half hearted comments of ‘Oh, well if that’s what you wanted...’ The other side of this of course is when I show them a shiny new, and importantly thick, coffee-table book full of full-colour pictures, then their face will light up with the ‘gift’ they have got me.

I know it’s not exactly an earth shattering dilemma, and sometimes I’ll just get a ‘real’ paper-based book or books to approximately the same value as the gift-card and say I got those with it, keeping the card to use for on-line purchases for convenience. As it means I don’t have to use my bank-card on-line. That way everybody is happy.

Let me tell you a story...

I’ve been looking at some of the critiques I’ve received lately, and the old ‘show don’t tell’ seemed to be back with a vengeance. This could just be my rubbish writing of course, but I took a look at some critiques of other peoples work, on various sites, as well and they do all seem to latch onto the same things. This would be a good thing if all this ‘tell’ was indeed dry and slowing down the story. But it’s also an easy target.

If you read any book from one of the latest popular mainstream ‘blockbuster’ series, like Twilight or Harry Potter for example, they are full of ‘tell’ sections. Not that I’m saying this is inherently a bad thing, or bad writing.
I don’t think I’d like to read a book that is entirely written in ‘show’ and the popular authors certainly don’t write like this. Like everything in writing, I suppose the trick is to strike the right balance.
So going back to those critique sites. I don’t think a lot of people are looking for or getting that balance. And please don’t think I’m trying to defend my own writing here. I’m most definitely not, and I look at and take every comment I get very seriously, whether it’s from a good-selling author or a complete (hence usually very keen) beginner. I totally believe that everybody’s opinion counts.
I also don’t think most people are picking faults in their critiques with any malice, after all a good critique is supposed to pick holes in your writing. No, I think it’s more that writers, especially the complete beginners nowadays are being more and more bombarded with the same old ... truisms ... e.g ‘Show don’t tell,’ ‘always use active and not passive voice,’ ‘kill the ..lly.’ All snappy little titbits of wisdom, but they may also make people too focused on the technical mechanics of writing without sufficient regard to the ebb and flow of the overall story.
I try not to look for examples in my own work because it’s too subjective, but I have seen numerous examples of what I see as selective critiquing on other peoples writing. I’ve read sections that seem to flow perfectly well to me, but people have hit time and again on an often small ‘tell’ section with the standard ‘Show this, I want to see xxx yyy’ comments. Often my thoughts run along the lines of ‘Why would you want to see that? If you read the story you can plainly see it’s simple background information, and doesn’t play a major part in ether the plot nor the character development.’ I suspect that a lot of the time the honest answer would be ‘Well I saw a bit of tell and told them to show, like you are supposed to do.’ And I believe in all honesty that they are trying to do good.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Popular, esteemed, and accomplished...

I received two Terry Pratchett books at Christmas, one by him (Snuff) and one about him. And I asked, well hinted heavily, for the second one. Anyone who knows me will tell you ‘I don’t read autobiographies.’ So why, you may ask, did I want this book. Well I’d unashamedly say that the Discworld books are my favourite series, the only other series coming close would be the original Douglas Adams ‘Hitchhiker's Guide’ books.
Because of this I’ve developer at least a passing interest in the people who wrote these books, again something not particularly in my nature. Most times I would read a book without any interest in the author, like I would watch a film without any interest in the scriptwriters, director, or actors. But some people do stand out. I could only name a handful of actors, and I am only interested in about the same amount of authors.

A critic may say ‘you are interested in Pratchett because he is popular,’ and that may very well be true. But critics seem to all too often, and ready, to attribute popularity with some distain somehow. And I would argue that popularity in and of itself isn’t what made an author interesting to me, no that would be their work...
I wouldn’t dream of knocking J.K. Rowling’s work and she is definitely a very popular author, but that doesn’t make me personally interested in her books or in her as an author. I mean no disrespect, and it’s understandable because I was never in her target readership group. So what makes Pratchett, or Adams different for me?

To be honest it’s a hard question to answer. I like the work of other authors, in the same way I like the work of some actors or directors, but I have no interest in any of them as people.
I think this is where the ‘esteemed’ factor comes in, at least for me. I personally hold the work of some authors in higher esteem than most. Unlike professional critics I get to be entirely subjective in this choice, and I don’t need to justify anything past the fact that ‘I like it’ and the same holds true for all those ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’ fans out there. We do not have any ‘thought police’ (at least not yet) and I personally think some people should remember that a bit more.