When I was at school, English grammar seemed simple. That’s because all they taught me was the difference between a noun, adjective and a verb!
About 20 years later I decided to retrain as a teacher of English as a foreign language (EFL). Which is when I found out that I didn’t know the first thing about grammar.
In fact, my grammar was fairly good. After all, as well as being a novelist, I’d spent years working as a journalist and in PR so having a good grasp of the language was a job requirement.
But I had no idea how it worked. The mechanics of the language were lost on me. Future perfect, conditionals, dependent prepositions – although I used them, I had no idea they existed.
After completing my novel The Vault in 2007, one literary agent was interested in the book and I was sent a reader’s report. One of the things the report mentioned was the fact that I slowed down action by using past perfect to describe what was happening when past simple would have been much more immediate.
At the time I didn’t understand what this meant. However, after retraining as an EFL teacher, I went back to The Vault a year ago. Now understanding more about how English grammar works, I was able to edit the book much more effectively. (I also now know that MS Word’s grammar check is not always correct!)
The words I’d used previously weren’t grammatically wrong but the phrasing and tenses were more cumbersome than necessary. Now, the book is quite a few words lighter and flows much better.
If they’d made me learn grammar at school (England in the 1970s), I’d probably have hated it. On the other hand, it might have helped me be a better writer sooner!
Just a quick reminder that my latest novel The Vault is currently on a five-day free promotion on Amazon.
The book is a tale of hidden secrets, childhood drama and murder – set in a small English town and based around a young boy called Adam Strong.
The novel began life some years ago with a short scenario about a group of dark-clad intruders making a night raid on a castle. That was followed by a story about a group of young boys who encounter ‘something nasty’ in the local woods.
For a while the book struggled to go any further. Then I went on a screenwriting course and was inspired to completely rework my languishing novel as a film script. That idea never came to fruition but taking a different look at my book (and the story) gave The Vault fresh impetus.
Inspired by a number of new ideas and a different approach I went back to the novel format and never really looked back. It’s a couple of years now since I completed the novel, which was published for the first time on Kindle earlier this year. A few good reviews so far – more would be welcome!
I’ve published this book in aid of the disaster relief charity ShelterBox – a cause I particularly believe in – and, as mentioned on a previous post, I’m hoping that enough free downloads will go on to generate some real sales for me and the charity!
I was reading an interesting post yesterday by Kiwi writer Sarah Knipping on the problems of writing in her own brand of this shared language we all call English.
It reminded me of when I went to work on a newspaper in a small town called Penrith many years ago. My new colleagues used a variety of dialect words that completely baffled me – and were shocked when I told them words like ratch and sneck were not standard English!
But then it got me wondering if many authors have problems with their words getting ‘lost in translation’?
English is used by huge numbers of people in many different places: here in the UK where it was invented, over in North America where they use (what’s to me) a strange mixture of archaic grammar and funny expressions. There’s also the Kiwis, the guys on that other island down there, the South Africans, the West Indians… etc etc – all with their own version of English.
And even more people don’t speak English as their first language but learn it because it’s the international language.
Over the last few years, I’ve been teaching English in Portugal. Some of my more advanced students had a pretty good vocabulary but mixed up British and US English (influenced by the global spread of American TV and music.)
It was a battle to try and remind my students that both variations were correct but they had to be consistent. You shouldn’t have colour and civilise in the same sentence.
I also had fun drawing their attention to some of the more dangerous words. Words like fanny, bum, suspenders and fag have very different meanings – and could cause great offence – depending on which brand of English you’re using.
Currently, I’m working on a rewrite of a novel set partly in North Africa. Some dialogue is written as if spoken by someone whose first language isn’t English but unless I’m very careful it can read as though I’m just a careless writer with really bad grammar.
Anyone else having fun with our shared language?
NB. In case you’re wondering, ratch means to have a rummage or search for something, while sneck can mean either to have a sneaky peek at something or is another word for a latch. Hence the popular local ale called ‘Sneck Lifter’!
I can’t remember the last time we had a decent summer here in the UK. Occasional sunny days yes. But the kind of summers where you know it’s going to be warm and sunny for day after day? Distant memories.
Now, after several years teaching in Portugal, my wife and I have moved back home. We had a bit of time to spare so decided to go camping down in Cornwall. And after several nights of huddling in our tent, mopping up leaks as the rain hammered down, we’re beginning to doubt our sanity.
But, being an optimistic sort at heart, I reckon there’s a silver lining to every cloud. You see, this coming weekend is a big UK public holiday – the August Bank Holiday.
Traditionally, this weekend is a time for the beach, BBQs, traffic jams, sales… and notoriously fickle weather. So, my thinking is: the climate in this country is going downhill and the weather is bound to be rubbish seeing as it’s a public holiday. Which means lots of people holed up in tents, caravans, hotels, B&Bs etc, needing something to do.
Therefore, in the interests of preserving national sanity, I’m using one of Amazon’s five-day promotions to offer my novel The Vault to my fellow citizens (and the rest of the world) for free.
And, if enough people download it for free, then actual sales of the book should also increase over the following weeks. So, that’s how I’m hoping that climate change – and the famously bad British weather – can help market my book.
For a good cause…
But sales of The Vault won’t just help me. Half of all royalties will go to the disaster relief charity ShelterBox, which provides emergency shelter and vital aid for families who have lost their home as a result of earthquakes, floods, volcanoes etc.
Why don’t more of us steal the things we want? Is it because of our moral code – or because we’re afraid of getting caught?
Years ago, me and my friend Myles would sit around in the evening and speculate about all kinds of things, a glass or two of homebrew helping lubricate our thought processes. Neither of us were that keen on the whole ‘work’ thing and would often say: ‘let’s just go and rob a bank’.
Needless to say, we never did get round to pulling the bank job. However, the concept of what makes the majority of us law-abiding citizens was fuel for thought. This is even more of a conundrum for an atheist: we’re here for a limited amount of time and then it’s over, so why not do whatever you feel like? What’s the point of scruples if you’ve only got one shot at existence? (Once you’re dead and gone you’ll never have to deal with the consequences.)
Personally, I do have a moral code – which is why I’m neither a gangster living on my riches on a tropical island or locked up in prison. (There’s also this thing called society – the balance varies but we all give to it and take from it in some way.)
However, as a writer, this question of why more people don’t steal things made me wonder about if we should expect our morals to apply to people with no stake in society. I thought about how an unregistered child born into poverty and never receiving any education or other benefits from ‘normal’ society would act. Should we really blame them if they take what they need?
That was the background for my novel The Tale Of Findo Gask - which in 2005 won the national prize in the Undiscovered Authors competition. (Findo came out on Kindle earlier this year – and is currently free to download!)
Basically, Findo is an adventure story. It’s about a young boy growing up in the criminal underclass of a British city, the things he does to survive and how he becomes a master thief. There’s adventure, drama… lots of crime… and even a bit of young romance.
Underneath though I hope there’s a bit of a moral. As much of a question as a message.
It was a book that I had huge fun writing, imagining all the things that a young boy with no restrictions and few hang-ups might get up to.
The Kindle version is free for the next couple of days so, whether you want to ponder the question I’ve posed or just be entertained, please download it, read, enjoy… and then recommend it to all your friends. Alternatively, any out there got any foolproof plan for robbing a bank and not getting caught?