Tuesday 31 January 2012

Food Experiments that Worked: Pizza Sandwich

No, it's not two slices of pizza sandwiched together.

I invented it when I had going-stale tortilla wraps to use up. It's pretty tasty, easy to make, and reasonably healthy depending on how much cheese you add. As healthy as any other cheese sandwich, anyway. Thought I'd share the recipe.

Ingredients: tortilla wrap, tomato purée, grated cheese
Equipment: table knife, microwave

Spread tomato purée over half the wrap, sprinkle with cheese and fold over.
You should now have a semi-circle. Spread more tomato purée over half, sprinkle with more cheese and fold over.
You should now have a quarter circle.
Make as many as you want, then microwave for about thirty seconds on high - until the cheese melts.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Writing Tips: Rules Are There to be Broken

There's an exception to every rule.

In fact that's not generally true, but when it comes to writing fiction, the only exception to that rule is itself. Which is delightfully paradoxical.

You'll probably have heard plenty of writing rules, most of them lists of words you're not supposed to use.

Don't use adverbs. Don't use adjectives. Don't use clichés. Use as few words as possible. Don't split infinitives. Never use the same word twice in a sentence. You can't start a sentence with 'And..'.

In the words of Cap'n Barbosa, 'They're more like... guidelines.'

Every single one of those rules, and any others you've heard, are there for a reason. It's useful to know them, and they are often right. But not always.

Take meter. A lot of poetry is written in meter, and it tends to sound relatively good. But poets write in iambic pentameter because it sounds good; it's not good because it's in meter. If you don't have a great deal of skill, you can write a pleasing verse by copying the rhythms used by others. But if you're good, you can write a good poem, and it might not be in meter. It might be, and often is, because meter sounds good, but not everything that sounds good conforms to those rules.

Likewise, any so-called rule in writing is just a subset of what sounds good. Following them because they're there can help a novice writer write something passable. But a good writer will learn to tell what sounds good, and if breaking the rules, in that instance, works better than not breaking them, the offending rule can go out the window.

That doesn't necessarily mean, even if you're a talented and experienced writer, that you should totally ignore the rules. Most of them are good guidelines and highlight things to watch out for. Adverbs are often unnecessary words. Using the same word twice usually doesn't sound good and might be confusing. But you must always remember that you get the final say.

For any rule, up to and including spelling and grammar, you have a veto. You can block it. You have a free rein to do whatever you like. But you should remember that the rules are there for a reason, and try to understand what that reason is, and go against the rules in a case that really is an exception.

What Fox Cub?

They must have had bl**dy vicious fox cubs in Sparta.

(Anyone unfamiliar with the story of the Spartan boy, click here.)

I'll accept the kid keeping a straight face, but am I supposed to believe that the fox didn't panic or struggle to escape, but just sat there still enough not to be noticed, quietly eating its way through his guts?

Monday 23 January 2012

Antidepressant and Stress-Reliever

I'm afraid I can't find an attribution for this photo. I found it on Facebook.

Little Lives

The fly buzzing round your room, has a life. It's only a little one, and not a very complex one, but the fly is alive. The spider builds its web in the corner, to catch its food to eat; it finds a mate, gives life to offspring. The slug crawling round the garden has a life, and the ants working tirelessly together. The bee bumbling about the flowers and the wasp hunting in the air.

The little lives all live off other lives, of course, just like the bigger lives. The spider and the wasp hunt the flies, and the bees fight off the invaders of the hive just as the lion hunts the antelope and the buffalo attacks the lion that would stalk its calf.

Nature is red in its many teeth and claws, and so it's only fair that the human should take its own part against all the other lives. To kill the wasps that threaten to sting you - even though they'd only do so out of fear, it still hurts; to lay out poison bait for the ants that invade you food stores or the slugs that destroy your garden - even though they only look for food, it is still at your expense; these things are all part of the balance of lives.

But when the ants are only marching up and down outside, why step on them on purpose? When a harmless spider wanders into your home, why smash it? When a single fly buzzes in your window - not defiling your food or crawling on your skin, but only trying to leave - why swat it?

Why do so many people go out of their way to crush those little lives from existence, and even make a joke, a game of it? How do some people find pleasure in killing a helpless, harmless living creature?

Open the window for a confused fly. Carry a spider outside in a glass. step over a line of busy ants. Leave a little life to be lived.

Friday 20 January 2012


Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

I like this sentence. It's perfectly grammatically correct, makes perfectly good sense (for a given value of 'sense'), and apparently it's the longest known antanaclasis in English. I expect you can infer from that what anatanaclasis means, but if you can discover what the sentence means without being told - and that includes googling (or otherwise fwseing) it - then I take my hat off to you, except I'm not wearing one.

Antanaclasis is rather fun - and I can't be the only one to think so because people have been making them up since at least Ancient Roman times, when someone came up with malo malo malo malo, which is some nonsense about fruit trees and naughty children.

Did you hear about the architect who had an obsession with elaborate groups of buildings?

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Pearls of Wisdom: Emergency Contact Lens Solution

If, like me, you wear contact lenses, you will at some point get something stuck in one of them while you're out and about. If you end up having to take it out, it's bl**dy hard to get it back in, minus any dust or eyelashes, without solution to wash it. Even if you habitually carry some for emergencies you're at some point going to be caught short.

Don't try and use water: it's hideously uncomfortable. And don't just keep taking it back out and putting it back in dry, and rubbing your eyes... you just make the problem about four times worse.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Writing Tips: Go With the Flow

I don't make them up, I just write them down.

That's what I always say about my stories. The words are mine, the characters are ... sort of mine, the plot is not. (Hehe, that rhymes.) I may choose my own settings, but with some restriction.

And I don't believe I'm the only writer to feel that way. Stories are curious things. They go where they will, and how they will. Often, they may look as if they're going to some destination, only to take a sudden turn in a new direction just over the horizon.

Saturday 14 January 2012


I invite you to join me in a campaign to Save Our Synonyms.

It has come to my attention that many wonderful old words are dying out of our language. Please do help to keep them alive. Your help could save a fascinating word from a sad and lonely demise, and no donations or subscriptions are asked. You can help simply by using old-fashioned words, thus bringing them back into the English language (speakers of other languages are invited to do their bit for their own native tongue, but I may be unable to supply you with suggestions).

To assist you in this noble cause, I shall post blog updates entitled 'SOS: Word of the Day', whenever I come across a particularly interesting example. If you yourself know of any worthy recipients of these attentions, please do mention them in the comments.

Without further ado, our very first word of the day:
wamblecropt: adj, afflicted with queasiness. From wamble, a rolling or uneasiness of the stomach.

I am indebted to Mark Forsyth, whose excellent book, The Etymologicon, and blog brought this word and a number of others to my attention.

So next time you eat a little too much or read too long in the passenger seat of a car, why not say you're feeling a little wamblecropt.

American Accents

As a Brit, I tend to think of an American Accent in general; I'm vaguely aware of the difference between Northern and Southern American voices, but beyond that it's all one to me.

My question is, how different are accents and dialects from, say, neighbouring states? How much do they vary across one state?

For instance, is there a 'New England accent', or would the difference between New Hampshire and Vermont be clear to anyone born and bred in the US? How about the difference between, say, New York and its neighbours? What about New York City and Albany?

For the most part, natives of this small island speak noticeably differently to those from the next county, and even many cities have their own dialects almost to the point of incomprehensibility, is there as much diversity across the pond?

This isn't purely idle curiosity: my novel is at least partly set in the US, and I'd really appreciate some info about this.

Thursday 12 January 2012


I have exams coming up, so naturally I'm procrastinating for all I'm worth instead of doing revision. But for anyone else with exams, I thought I'd post some revision tips. So without further ado, here's the three-point plan that has always stood me in good stead:

Requires effort. Results may vary. Different techniques may suit different people. If you do not succeed in your exams, it is not the writer's fault.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Microsoft Word's Blasted Flaming Spellcheck!

#Amwriting right now, or trying to, and spellcheck is being even more annoying than usual, if that's possible.

It's one of those damned if you do.. things. Turn it off, and typos slip through, leave it on and you soon realise it has a relatively limited vocabulary and knows nothing at all about grammar. Completely ignores half the genuine mistakes, and then goes and complains about (prize example) 'exclusive street' not being capitalised, because apparently it's not acceptable to put an adjective before the word 'street' unless it's the name of the road.

Worst of all is writing speech. Characters don't always speak in good grammar, they contract words and phrases that the computer isn't used to being abbreviated, and don't even get me started on writing dialect.

Little wriggling red and green worms, everywhere; everywhere, I tell you!

Monday 2 January 2012

Beta Reading: A Brief Guide

Beta reading is where a writer gives you a copy of their work, and asks for feedback. It's different from reviewing, because your comments are intended for the writer, rather than for potential readers.

And it's not always easy: I've both given and received such feedback, and on the one hand it's usually difficult to know what to write, while on the other, practically no-one tells me what I really wanted to know, and quite often I get feedback which is almost entirely unhelpful.

So here's a few tips: