Friday, 31 July 2009

Sneaky Words - another reason I should get rid of my television

The obvious reason I should get rid of my television is that it is far too easy for me to sit in front of it, watching the same old rubbish every day instead of doing something productive. But another reason to get rid of it is so that my brain isn't subconsciously assaulted by adverts every ten minutes.

It really bugs me how nearly every advert, whether it's about face wash or compensation lawyers, uses sneaky words like 'COULD', 'APPEAR', or indefinite quantities like 'THE AMOUNT YOU DESERVE'. Listen carefully enough and you'll see that most adverts promise NOTHING about the product they are trying to sell. Even phrases like 'RECOGNISED by the British Skin Foundation' mean nothing.

Words can be powerful things. Sometimes they seem like they are full of promises, but look a little closer and you'll spot the sneaky ones that snatch those promises away.

Monday, 27 July 2009

How to Avoid and Correct Dangling Participles

“Thou art a yeasty, onion-eyed, whoreson rabbit-sucker, and I shall remove from thee a pound of flesh if thou dost permit thy participles to dangle."
~ Shakespeare (Cannibal) on dangling participles

I toyed with the idea of writing a wittier title to this post - but I personally find the phrase 'dangling participle' humorous enough. I don't know quite what that says about me. Besides, I think the Shakespeare quote introduces the topic nicely.

Everyone wants to tidy up their writing, but most people (myself included) get a little confused with all the technical mumbo jumbo in grammar guides and the such. So what is this little bugger, the 'dangling participle'?

Firstly, 'participles' are the -ing and -ed forms of verbs. So a 'dangling participle' is a participle (usually at the beginning of a sentence) that apparently modifies a word other than the word intended.

It becomes a lot clearer with examples.

'Flying across the country, the lake came into view.'
- I didn't know lakes could fly...

'Cycling down the road, the dog knocked me over.'
- That dog should be in the circus...

'They said it was going to rain on the radio.'
- Well that might break it!

The best way to AVOID writing dangling participles is to understand the structure. If you understand the structure, you are less likely to get it wrong in the first place. However, if upon re-reading/editing your work you do come across a dangling participle, they are pretty easy to CORRECT. It's just a case of simple logic - rewording and reorganising the sentence.

'As we flew across the country, the lake came into view.'

'While I was cycling down the road, the dog knocked me over.'

'On the radio, they said it was going to rain.'

As the confusion created by dangling participles has much to do with the intention of the writer verses the understanding of the reader, it is often best to get a friend or an editor to read through your work. Since you already know what you mean, the dangling participle might not stand out to you as much as it would to a fresh pair of eyes. However, the better you understand dangling participles, the easier they become to correct, or better still, avoid completely.

Friday, 24 July 2009


About time I wrote an update. Exactly one week ago today, I graduated from university.

To be honest, I was completely underwhelmed by the experience, and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. Most of the way through university, I pretty much knew what grade I would end up with: it seemed that if I tried really hard on a piece of work, I'd get a 2.1 grade, and if I didn't try too much, I'd also get a 2.1 grade. On occasion I produced work that was of a First grade, but because of averages, for every unit I did, I got a solid 2.1. So I wasn't surprised with my final grade. Part of me is a little disappointed, though. Perhaps I could have tried really hard...

Typically for Norwich weather, it was a grey day. Luckily, though, the rain held off until the journey home. I felt pretty ridiculous in my gown. And the gown was a horrible colour: navy blue and orangey-pink. Very disappointed that it wasn't black.

The hall was also underwhelming. It was the exam hall, so full of pleasant memories, and it was underground. It used to be an old gym. There was a big blue curtain to act as a backdrop. Nothing like the grand old halls or cathedrals that many other universities use to hold their graduation ceremonies. A shame.

I hated going up on stage to get my degree. All I was focusing on was not tripping over.

My partner thinks that I don't value my achievement as much as I should. I think that's true. It just seems to me that so many people have degrees these days, and they don't play as big a role in getting a job as I had previously expected. I didn't particularly enjoy my time at university. I wish I could do it over, better. I'm mostly relieved that it is all over now.

The aspect I most miss is my creative writing seminars. The group I was in for my final-year was brilliant: a good bunch of people, and a great tutor. I really enjoyed the work-shopping structure.

Previously, I thought that the course hadn't really done much to improve my writing. We weren't 'taught' as such, more 'guided', or self-taught through discussion with each other. However, I recently looked back at some of my first-year work. Compared with the last piece of creative writing I submitted (my dissertation), it was shockingly bad! So, on reflection, I have improved. However, I don't believe it was all down to the course content/structure, but also due to the simple fact that I was constantly practicing my writing skills. Writing is like a muscle, and the more you exercise it, the stronger you work will become.

As for the literature side of the course... I felt slightly mislead. Before I started university, I was lead to believe that there was a lot of choice about what you got to study, and what you got to write about. I had in my head all these exciting ideas about writing essays on 'Gormenghast' or Angela Carter. None of that ever came about because, really, my unit choices were very restricted. Out of all the units I had to do, I think I only really wanted to do about a quarter of them. And the reading load was completely unrealistic, at least for me. I'm a slow reader, and there was no way I was ever going to get through four books a week, excluding secondary reading.

Going to university definitely had value. I enjoyed part of it. I guess it just wasn't what I had expected. Something must have gone right though, because I'm still itching to do a Masters degree...!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Join Us...

Already dizzy from a heavy night out across the interweb, you decide to take a short-cut home. This alley looks like it cuts some time off your journey. Your footsteps echo as the sounds from the street are left behind. A trashcan clatters over; a cat screeches. The shadows shift suspiciously. You become lost - this wasn't the simple short-cut you had anticipated.

But then there, piercing through the darkness in electric blue, a neon sign flickers: Critters Bar.

The name sounds familiar, you think. It's one of those phrases that you read somewhere, and once the name is implanted in your mind, you hear it mentioned in passing whispers. But... Critters? Who are these Critters? Little creatures that scuttle in the shadows?

Curiosity draws you closer, and you feel like the proverbial moth.

'Can I help you?'

You hadn't expected there to be a bouncer at the door. Perhaps this is some kind of secret cult.

'Can... I come in?' you ask, a little unsure of yourself.

'Of course. Everyone is welcome.'

You step towards the door, but the bouncer blocks your way. You look at him, confused.

'Sign here, first,' he says.

A registration form? Sure, can't hurt. Nothing too probing is asked. You don't even have to give your real name.

You feel a tingling sense of excitment as you step past the bouncer. You climb the narror stairs. The sound of low music and chatting voices invite you up. You open the doors and see...

a regular bar, with a regular bunch of people. Some people are standing in small groups, holding martini glasses or pints of beer, laughing and joking. Others are huddled round tables, deep in conversation, taking notes. Many sit on their own, furiously scribbling stories onto paper napkins, or into little notebooks. It dawns on you who the 'Critters' are... They are writers. You've joined a creative writing group.

Suddenly the conversations stop. A barrage of writers shuffle towards you, extending welcoming hands to shake, offered drinks to take. Someone puts their arm around your shoulder and leads you to the bar.

'So, what'll it be? Post a story? Critique someone else's? Try the poetry challenge! Want to submit to the anthology?'

Yup. I'm plugging the writing forum Critters Bar again. This time with a whole post all to itself.

Critters Bar is an intimate writing forum of about a hundred members, all with different writing backgrounds. We welcome everyone. Here are just a few of the exciting things happening at the moment:

Story-a-Day July Blast

In the Creative Corner forums we have a Story-a-Day area. We're currently running a July Blast in there, where a small number of us are trying to write a story a day throughout the month. You don't have to write every day, just to average one a day, hopefully lasting out to the end with 31 freshly written stories (or poems, or non-fiction). Quality isn't an issue. The main thing is to sit down and write. If the work posted is a rough draft, that's fine. If it's polished, that's fine too. Typically, some of these will find their way to being published somewhere later.

Weekly 200-word flash challenge

A weekly 200-word challenge has been running for almost three years. Each week the previous challenge winner posts a single word prompt. Anyone wanting to take part that week posts a piece of flash, no more than 200 words in length, based on the prompt. The person who posted the prompt selects the winning post. Usually just for fun, but now and then a small cash prize (or some other prize) is on offer.

Weekly poetry challenge

Runs on the same lines as the flash challenge, above. The previous winner picks a theme, a style, and anyone participating writes a poem to suit. usually for fun, sometimes a small cash prize. Critters Bar evolved from a Short Story (only) site over at the East of the Web site, and more poets are always welcome.

Critters Bar Anthology

Last year, with support from Matt Ward, the editor of Skive Magazine, an anthology of members' short stories was self-published through Lulu. This was a souvenir anthology produced in 48 hours, after several aborted attempts in the prevous few years. This year we're planning to produce another anthology, selecting quality stories from the members. Exact dates and details still to be determined, but we're planning to have it available in time to fill people's Christmas stockings.

200 Word Anthology

Since the 200-word weekly challenges have been so popular over the years, we are now putting together a small anthology of various stories which are no more than 200 words in length. Choose your favourite challenge submission, or write something new. Only three more weeks to get your submissions in!

Hopefully, I'll see you at the bar. My username is Capulet. Drop me a PM if you join, or need any help, or want to have a chat.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Mslexia Poetry Competition Results

A few months ago, I entered the Mslexia poetry competition on a whim. This was the first time I'd entered a poetry contest. I wasn't that hopeful, but you gotta be in it to win it, right? And poetry, gah, such a subjective thing to judge!

Well, yesterday I got my new issue of Mslexia. I hadn't heard back from them, but I flicked through just to make sure. Nope, none of my poems in there.

The judge, Ruth Padel, gave a bit of feedback in her introduction for all those who weren't chosen. She said that she rejected many poems because of tiny imperfections. In essence, these were some of the reasons for rejection:

- Too many unnecessary adverbs/adjectives
- Clumsy line-ends
- Lapses in tone/form
- Over-reliance on very short lines for impact

Obviously she went into much more detail. I would recommend the magazine, and you can buy it online at

Here is one of the three poems I submitted. I wrote it as a response to a challenge at Critters Bar and, as I said, submitted it on a whim. In hindsight, it probably didn't quite fit in with the tone of the magazine. Well, that's my excuse. Perhaps I abused the first point listed above. Perhaps all of them...

The Mouth of the Jungle
by Sophie Playle

I have come too far
into this wet and wild place.
Sweat sticks to my face like a
second layer of hot skin. Birds sing
a violent war cry, and insects roar
as one angry gnawing mouth.
The forest tastes me, takes tiny bites,
tests my flavour. It does not starve,
it swells with might, and tests the brave
or the foolish.

I have been deemed worthy for devour;
I see it in every pair of narrowing eyes,
every bright flower. Fixed eyes, cold,
unblinking and alive with vibrant shards of
gold, stop me in my tracks.
I have come too far, they say, and now I must
pay with my flesh, my bones soon to be reduced
to toothpicks for the king.

My damp fingers curl around the hilt of my blade.
I am not afraid – I am ready for this test, I feel
my heart swelling in my breast and my breath
is steady.

He growls, an echo of the forest’s hunger.
Muscles tense and ripple as he leaps.
Claws, teeth; sharp, wide.
The eyes grow large as my blade strikes
upwards. Blood covers me
like a third layer of skin.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Busy Week

Just a few bits and pieces for you today, dear reader, as I've been quite ill this week.

Judge bans 'Catcher in the Rye' book sequel
Some of you may remember from my June blog post that author JD Salinger was suing a writer for trying to release a book called 'Coming Through the Rye' which contained a character extremely similar to Salinger's Holden Caulfield. Well, the judge has ruled in Salinger's favour. Salinger's lawyers called the attempted sequel a "rip-off pure and simple".

The BBC says:
"Mr Colting's novel sees 76-year-old Mr C - who the author has admitted is based on Caulfield - escape from a retirement home and head to New York."

You can read the full article HERE

Fastest Writer in the West
Last week, I wrote a story in response to a challenge at Critters Bar, a writing forum. Every week we have a 'write a story in 200 words using this prompt' contest. The prompt for that week was 'sand', and with the blog-zine Six Sentences in mind, I wrote a response in about twenty minutes, and sent it off for submission to 6S. Within the hour I had received an acceptance and the story was up on the site! The fastest response I've ever received. You can read the micro-story HERE - 'A Sandy Found Sock'.

Twitter helps find me work
My cousin Tracy Playle, who runs her own business, Picklejar Communications, saw my unemployed plight via Twitter and offered me some proofreading work. I spent a few hours proofreading Nottingham University's student handbook. This was my first paid proofreading job, so I'm really pleased and very grateful for my cousin for taking a chance on me :)

I score a creative writing column in new youth magazine
Some people from my university course who used to run the student newspaper are setting up a brand new newspaper/magazine for the young people and students of Norwich. It's called The Project, and I was asked to write an article about submitting short stories to horror magazines. I suggested that I do a more general article about submitting stories as well, and they said go for it. Then I suggested that I could write another one on writing forums, and another one on entering writing competitions... They said sure, why not? And after sending my first two articles, and asking if they needed any more help with the creative writing section, they offered me the job of Creative Writing Commissioning Editor. That sounds uber-impressive, and I'm just waiting now to be sent a list of duties. It's not all official yet, but it would be really fun to be a part of this project.

WordVooDoo kicks off again
I've been volunteering as a creative writing moderator/tutor for an online project called WordVooDoo for the past year. This is where pupils of the George Mitchell School in London post their responses to set tasks and various university student moderators post encouragement and gentle criticism. This year I'm working on the new sister project, Junior WordVooDoo, too. This means I'm working with kids from ages 8-16, I think. We're not told the ages of our pupils so that we judge their work based solely on what is written. I really enjoy it, and some of the kids are really talented. I think it's great that creative writing is being encouraged so professionally at this academic level. I only wish I had the chance to be involve in such a scheme what I was their age!

And oh yeah, I got my uni grade
I got a 2.1, which is one grade below a first. I was expecting this as nearly every piece of work I wrote was marked a 2.1, with only a few pieces marked as a First grade. I really wish I had tried a little bit harder, but I do have a string of reasons/excuses that I think hindered me a little throughout the three years, including getting glandular fever, food poisoning, my nan dying, and breaking my foot which meant the ten minute walk to campus took me over half an hour of pain. So yeah. A 2.1 isn't too bad.
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