Tuesday 30 April 2013

Talc Alf's Alphabet

Me, Talc Alf, Phil - 2004
Talc Alf is a living legend, residing in the outback of South Australia. He gets his name from his talc stone carvings. You can see some examples of his work if you Google Image 'talc alf carvings'.

As well as being an impressive artist, he's also a certified genius in unravelling the esoteric power of words.

I bring this up because, whilst rummaging through the Memory Chest a while back, I found an old diary entry:

Basically, he invented (or drew out - depending on how you want to look at it) the symbolic meaning of the alphabet, in order to unravel the true meaning of words. I've tidied it up a bit below:

(click to enlarge)
So, the meaning of each letter goes something like this:

A - Man
B - Woman
C - Child
(So A + B = C)
D - Sunset/Down/Death
E - Eagle/Fly/Equal
F - Forward
G - Someone Eating/Give
H - Height*
I - Individual
J - Judge **
K - Kill or 'come to'
L - Lowland
M - Mountains
N - Near
O - Sun/Life
P - People/Population
Q - Question
R - Rolling***
S - Swerve/River
T - Top
U - Under
V - Victory
W - Water
X - Christ/Cross/Crossroads/Sacrifice
Y - Why?
Z - End (from sunrise to sunset)

* Also the stages of the sun, see bottom symbol next to 'ch'
** Combination of rocker (to-and-froing) and T - reaching a decision.
*** As in the sun rolling down the side of a mountain.

Then there are a couple of other combinations like:

CH (chi) = Energy
EL = 'El' - 'the'
AU = Chemical symbol for Gold.
RA = Ra, the god of the sun. 

Once you've got all of that, it gets rather fun.

I wrote in my diary that one girl, called Rachel, had looked up the meaning of her name and been disappointed to discover that it was Hebrew for a 'female sheep'.

Talc Alf had a better explanation:

Ra = God of the sun.
Chi = Energy

So backwards: El Chi Ra = "One whose energy comes from the sun."

Some other examples:

GOD = "Giver of life and death."


AU = Gold
ST = Sunrise
RA = God of sun
L = Land

AUST - 'East' in German (phonetically?)

"East to the land of the golden sun."

LIFE = "Each individual moves forward in equality."

It can become horribly addictive. I had a go myself with short words. Interesting results:

MUM = "Under the mountains," as in 'Mother Earth'

DAD = This is a bit ambiguous. At the time I thought it was "Male bringer of death," as in 'Warrior'. Which would make MUM and DAD the Creator and Destroyer of life. Looking at it again, it could also mean "Man who stands between death." So the Creator and Protector of life.

LOVE = "Sunlight's victory over the land brings equality"

HATE = "The tallest/strongest man has ultimate power over equality." Maybe even "The man who cuts down others' equality."

You can really lose yourself in this. Have fun!

Saturday 27 April 2013

Unicorn Western

Unicorn Western cover

I've been following @SeanPlatt on Twitter for a while now, he's also got a website.

The guy's a prolific indie author, along with his regular writing partner @TheDavidWright.

Last year Sean co-wrote Unicorn Western with Johnny B. Truant. It tickled my fancy, so I purchased a copy.

You are about to read a story about a gunslinger who rides a unicorn. If you think that's a stupid idea, then we're on the same page. We've decided that this is the most awesome stupid idea that either of us has ever had.

The story behind Unicorn Western began when our friend David Wright said we couldn't write a decent western without doing a ton of research. We replied that if we put a unicorn in the story, we could get away with anything.

The characters are vivid, the scene atmospheric, and the plot... extremely silly.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, businesses, events, or locations is purely coincidental. Any resemblance to reality is rendered especially ridiculous by the inclusion of unicorns.

In a world where unicorns not only exist, but love chicken pie, and where people scry the future in barrels of water whilst singing traditional (Billy)Joelsongs in church, there is much to be afraid of.

Really enjoyed my first venture into one of Platt's many series, and they've since published more in the Unicorn Western set, with the first one currently going free on Kindle. If you like a bit of light-hearted entertainment, check it out.

Friday 26 April 2013

The Crux of the Matter

Paul Magrs

A wonderful open letter by the 'distinguished' Paul Magrs on the worth of a book:

You write: “It would be especially helpful if we could define exactly how successful [The Creative Writing Coursebook] has been by specifying numbers of sales. If you don’t know the details of sales to date might you be able to ask your publisher?”

I might. I might be able to find out by asking them. I might even be able to look up one of my own royalty statements. I might be able to find out - purely in terms of sales - how “successful” that book has been.

But I won’t.

You see, I don’t think that’s where that book’s success is to be found. Or any book’s.

Not in sales.

Nor in distinction by prizes or third-hand repute or by any of the measures imposed by, on the one hand, your shitty middlebrow literary culture or, the other, your titting assessment exercises.

I had more than enough of your bullet-pointed lists and your grids and graphs when I was still working in academia. I didn’t get my head round them then - when I was still salaried - and I certainly won’t now, when I’m outside that world and getting along as best as I can, just trying to write on the time that I have bought for myself.

I don’t think your measures are any good at all. Your impact and your sales and your bogus respect.

The whole thing is well worth a read. Turns out the person who sent the original request was the Professor of Creative Writing! Tut, tut.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Evolution of Language

Shakespeare's First Folio 

Today marks the 449th birthday of William Shakespeare... whoever he was. 

Always ongoing controversy about that. The BBC lead with this story today: Shakespeare scholars try to see off the Bard's doubters

To be honest, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

I think my favourite book on the subject has to be Bill Bryson's Shakespeare: The World as a Stage.


Far more interesting than the repetitive argument over whether Shakespeare was Shakespeare or not, is what she, he, or it, added to the English language, and how that language has changed, and formalised, over time. I wonder whether the Great Bard would have managed to knock out half as many incredible works had he been forced to conform to today's stringent grammatical and stylistic rules?

Amongst the words first found in Shakespeare are abstemious, antipathy, critical, frugal, dwindle, extract, horrid, vast, hereditary, excellent, eventful, barefaced, assassination, lonely, leapfrog, indistinguishable, well-read, zany and countless others (including countless). Where would we be without them? He was particularly prolific...when it came to attaching un-prefixes to existing words to make new words that no one had thought of before - unmask, unhand, unlock, untie, unveil and no fewer that 309 other in a similar vein.

 And, as mentioned in a previous post on grammar:

Spelling was luxuriantly variable...You could write 'St Paul's' or 'St Powles', and no one seemed to notice or care....People could be extrordinarily casual even with their own names...Philip Henslowe, the empresario, indifferently wrote 'Henslowe' or 'Hensley' when signing his own name, and others made it Hinshley, Hinchlow, Hensclow, Hynchlowes, Inclow, Hinchloe and half a dozen more. More than eighty spellings of Shakespeare's name have been recorded...the Oxford English Dictionary...prefers Shakspere. Perhaps nothing speaks more eloquently of the variability of spelling in the age than the fact that a dictionary published in 1604, A Table Alphabeticall of Hard Words, spelled 'words' two ways on the title page.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all live like that for a year, just to see whether the world would end?

[UPDATE: Here's an interesting article which disputes the claim Shakespeare invented so many new words.]

Thursday 18 April 2013

Famous Rejection Letters

After that cartoon the other day, I dug out this old link: 20 Famous Rejection Letters We Can All Learn From

If you thought Justin Bieber's comments at the Anne Frank Museum were off the mark, try being the publisher who rejected her diary!

Or the person who told Dr. Seuss that he was “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant selling.”

There's another entertaining post on Buzz Malone's blog: A Novel Rejection, in which he lists the number of times famous authors and their very famous books were rejected. For example:

  • Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling: 9
  • The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss: 15
  • Carrie, Stephen King: 30 (which is also what Lionel Shriver said for We Need to Talk About Kevin)
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul: 140!!!

Just goes to prove: opinions are just opinions, and opinions are often wrong.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Proofing & Editing (The Manual Way)

I was at a workshop a while back and they handed out some - err - handouts, which I thought I'd share. They neglected to reference the original source, but I think it may have been the Mills & Boon lot. Their 'Official Guide to House Style'-type-thing. If you recognise it, please let me know.

The way that I'm used to working with editors is by using the Review Function electronically, which I posted about recently. I'd hazard that most people have switched to this method now. 

Editing printed paper still requires someone to go through and make the changes on the electronic copy. However, printing out your work and reading through it can often help you to spot mistakes you may otherwise have missed, so it is useful for your own notes, and for working with editors who still send a paper proof.

If nothing else, it's a record of a secret code that harks back to the golden age of publishing. And, should the epocalyptic threats of 2012 ever prove to be fashionably late, and an apocalyptic era of destruction reign, in the absence of electricity and telecommunications we can still get our books print-ready.

Without further ado - here's a crudely scanned list of The most common correction marks (based on British Standards 1958):

click to enlarge

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Missing any? Let me know.

There was also the following useful advice:

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Friday 12 April 2013

I Must Stress...

I haven't been much of a writer of late, lazing about in the Highlands, helping my friend to get married, distracted by the day job.

I decided to get back into the swing of things gradually by looking at a few competitions. I like competitions because they focus your mind on a short, achievable goal, thematic and time-bound. Occasionally, I even come out on top. Right now, like most writers, my bank balance could use a bump.

I found one that looked promising. I'd seen it before, and it was accepting online entries for the first time. I like online entries. Saves ink, the environment, and the cost of postage. Win, win and - win.

Unfortunately, as with many writing competitions using online entry forms, copy/pasting your work into them completely washes them of any formatting.

When I wrote to mention this, I received the following reply:

Entering online removes any formatting, leaving just the merits of the text to be judged.

If you feel your italics etc need to be seen as part of the judging, then I would recommend you use the postal system.

We always judge on content only, so there is a level playing field for all entries.

We are looking forward to reading your work.

This is a well established literary prize, talking to people who are obsessed with writing and 'merits of the text'.

I know I'm not the only author they'll need to scrape off the ceiling after a reply like that.

Italics are fundamental.

Writers worth their weight will immediately understand that it's not only important points they can be used to stress, but that they're absolutely necessary to indicate foreign words and phrases.

As an English writer, I'm apt to use foreign phrases from time to time, such as en route, nom de plume, tête-à-tête and ad hoc, ad nauseam.

As an English writer writing a book set in Iran, I'm also more than slightly likely to throw in some phrases in Turkish, Persian and Arabic. 

Even if you never use foreign words, and your story takes place in Middlesex, how are your characters going to think?

She reached for another cup of coffee. Am I making sense here? Does anyone grasp what I'm saying?

Honestly. How can a panel of judges judge my work on its literary merit when they don't appear to comprehend the very foundation of the stuff?

Bah, humbug, she thought, consigning her entry to the waste paper basket. That'll teach me to write distractions when I should be bashing out the sequel to War and Peace. Et cetera, et cetera.

Nuff said.

Monday 8 April 2013

The Danger of a Single Story

One of my favourite TED talks, by Chimamanda Adichie, founder of the Farafina Trust and author of Half of a Yellow Sun. About the dangers of telling a story from only one perspective.

If you head to the TED site, you can find the transcript in many languages just below the video.

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

Wednesday 3 April 2013


Angry pizza man has a blue cape
(Image courtesy of Darby)

Mondegreen is a word that I first heard whilst watching a documentary about Ian Rankin, who was writing his next Rebus novel at the time. Rankin is rather a connoisseur of obscure words. For example, check out rebus.

I love the word mondegreen. It's a word I didn't realise I needed all my life until I heard it. Meaning:

The mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning.

For instance,  whenever I listen to Mika's Any Other World, I am absolutely convinced that it's all in the hands of a bitter pizza man.