To Spell or Not to Spell

Ah spelling. My old friend.

I’m sure I’ve told you of this before, but in case I haven’t, I was born a bookworm. Well, not a worm. Perhaps a wyrm? Wyvern? Either way, I grew up loving books and devouring stories. And any good English teacher will tell you, that is the best way to expand your vocabulary. And while I can understand grammar mistakes, I’ve made a fair few of them, as I’m sure a lot of people have, it’s spelling that gets my billy goat something gruff.

I can understand the occasional error or typo here and there, but when I pick up a professionally published book and find them lurking in sentences, there is a definite point to which I will allow a spelling transgression.

For instance, everyone has a porpoise to their lives. Really? A porpoise? And where should we keep this porpoise? The bathtub? The neighbour’s pool? I dare say, it just won’t hold in my tea cup, floating about in the Lady Gray.

Yes, an understanding reader may have picked up on the fact that you meant “purpose.” But what if they had not? It concerns me to think there is an unhappy and unfulfilled individual trying to find the meaning of life in an aquarium or at Sea World. How much worse will they feel when they haven’t discovered it, lying peacefully at the bottom of Minki the Orca’s tank?

So you can understand my concern at the direction that modern language has taken. While I understand the use of text speak in a text message and find it useful myself, I loathe it when the real word is required and is replaced by its contemporary counterpart. I remember being in primary school and discovering for the first time that the word “OK” was actually spelt “okay.” The shock! The horror! Primarily coming from the teacher as the rest of us sat there bewildered.

I used to think that this was a case of a minority not being able to spell properly, or understanding that message is not in fact spelt “msg” and that vowels do have a purpose and it has nothing to do with aquariums, or indeed laxatives.

While it worries me enough that forthcoming generations may not love books as much as their predecessors, it worries me more that they cannot spell, not because they are having trouble grasping spelling, but because they are not being taught properly or encouraged to read. I remember getting to high school before some of my grammar was properly corrected. And a friend recently told me that she had managed to progress that far before she was told that a word that she commonly used did not in fact exist in the English vocabulary.

The good news is that there will be work for proof-readers in the future but at times I wonder if language will not be treated with the idiot’s magnifying glass and words removed because they’re just too hard. Yes, language has evolved. From Latin to Old English to modern English, not to mention all the other enchanting languages that exist in the world.  Evolution is one thing, but dumbing down is entirely another. Are we to become as obsolete as our language? Are we to be carted off and deemed abnormal because we refuse to submit to stupidity? For all the thinkers and the people with intelligence and those who have come to love language and have one way or another become keepers of the written word. For the sake of creativity, I sincerely hope not.

At least my concern about a lack of book-readers is satiated at book festivals and book stores when sometimes it’s too packed to move. At these moments it is heartening to know that there is a world of people who love books as much as you do. And hopefully while this continues, there will be enough people teaching those around them that the difference between purpose and porpoise starts with aquatics.

And I confess there is a reason I raise this concern. It is simply to say no. It is one thing to live in a world where people become more and more shallow by the day or cosmetic item, but to allow the shallow to devalue the written word is another thing. And I make my stand against this. I am all for people following their own bliss and living and letting live, but when it comes to people just not knowing how to do something out of no other reason than not being taught correctly or encouraged properly, I feel that is a problem. We are a first world nation. We are an intelligent people, despite evidence to the contrary when traversing down certain shopping centres. If you love the written word, if you love language, if you love books, you should not have to hide this in a convenient corner of your life for fear of not fitting in.

I think we should be proud of the level of intelligence we have achieved and use this to help other people and make it known that language and words are important to us.

And while I can’t stand arrogance and people who look down their noses at you because you’re not a university professor, I do appreciate intelligence. I even have a badge pinned to my bag that says “reading is sexy.” Which, quite obviously, it is.

It’s about standing up for what we believe in. I believe we should all have a basic understanding of language. I believe that we should be encouraged to expand our thinking. I believe that words and books and language are precious. And I believe they’re more important than shallowness and dumbing down to fit in. I believe that ignorance, while in some circumstances can be blissful, serves no one in the end. And I believe that knowledge is power.


Published in: on June 22, 2011 at 11:32 am  Comments (4)  

The Smell of Success

There is a man with a personal library of approximately 300,000 books which makes my paltry collection of around 200 volumes look like pocket change. This man is not a writer or a professor of literature; this man is a fashion designer.

Karl Lagerfeld, for those who don’t know, is a German fashion designer, artist and photographer based in ParisFrance who is the eccentric creative director at Chanel and Fendi. Now why am I talking fashion? Because Karl Lagerfeld has recently announced he will be releasing a perfume based on his one greatest love: books.

Currently under the name of Paper Passion, which will apparently come packaged in a hollowed-out hardcover tome, it is unsure what element of books he will be aiming for. Personally I love the smell of books, old dusty and full of life or fresh printed paper. I love them all. But do I want to smell like a dusty old book?

I am quite intrigued by this idea and will certainly be tracking down a bottle for a sniff once it’s out. Whether I buy it or not will come down to it being the warm rich comforting smell or if it smells like a mouldy basement. In this day and age nothing would surprise me.

So folks, what do you think it will smell like and would you want to smell like a book?

~Sabrina R G Raven



Published in: on June 15, 2011 at 5:57 am  Comments (2)  

Planting a Seed: The Sleight of Hand Technique

I never knew what this technique I’m about to talk about was called, until Chuck Palahniuk gave it a name – ‘hiding the gun.’ I’ve always referred to it as a ‘seed.’ A seed is something planted in a narrative, normally early on and then disguised, or forgotten about, only to be brought back in the end and used as something crucial in the story. They do this in movies all the time.

Chuck Palahniuk calls it ‘hiding the gun,’ because a character will slip a gun into their purse or bag, you’ll see it, know about it, process the thought, then the story will move on. You’ll forget it’s there until the character comes face to face with the demented serial killer, and just when you thought it was too late…bam! There’s the gun. You saw her put it in her bag, but it was so quick, and such a useless piece of information at the time that you didn’t think much of it. I saw a movie once where the antagonist put a bible in his breast pocket at the beginning of the movie. He said he always kept it close to his heart. This useless snippet of information went into my short term memory, then was disregarded quickly, until the end. He was shot by someone in a stand-off, fell backwards onto the ground and you thought, ‘He has to be dead. There’s no way he could have survived that.’ Then bam! The bullet had hit the bible and stopped halfway through.

I’ve used this formula in a lot of my books, because when I read, I love to be tricked. I love to read something and think ‘wait, how did that happen? Where did he get the gun from?’ It makes you go back and reread the book, or watch the movie again just to see it. And there it is, second scene in, they’ve tucked the gun away. Much like a magician doing a card trick, the card disappears, then it reappears someplace else entirely different. At first it seems useless and random, but later on it turns out an integral part of the story line.

One of the first ‘real’ books I ever wrote was called ‘Good Bye Blue Sky,’ where I used the hidden seed (gun) for the first time. Very early on in the book I introduced a Preacher who had her own TV show. She was only referred to every now and then, or seen in posters or talked about. I made her appearance very brief and made the time between each of her appearances far apart so the reader would forget about her, but not too far apart so they wouldn’t remember her all together. Then at the end, I made my protagonist and the TV show Preacher go head to head in a fist fight at a book signing. I built up her reputation, without giving her any ‘real’ book time. She didn’t interact with any other characters, wasn’t seen in the flesh, just talked about and flashed up on TV. By the end of the book you knew enough about her, knew her name and what she stood for, without thinking she was even part of the book.

Everdark Realms, the book I helped write with Sabrina and Sandy (which is coming out this year), has a seed hidden in it. The difficult thing with this particular seed is that Everdark Realms is a trilogy and the seed was planted in the first book and will be exposed in the last book. It’s a big gamble, being that it has to last so long and readers may forget it, or it won’t be the pay off that I hoped it would be. I have to draw your attention to it every now and then, make it crop up in conversation, or seen somewhere. Make it so it’s not too obvious or too abstract. Hopefully the pay off will be good and the reader will be tricked into thinking this seed is nothing more than useless information until it is revealed and then, hopefully, will be impressed that they had seen it all along.

Because Chuck Palahniuk uses the ‘hiding the gun’ technique so often, I end up looking for it in his books. Much like the twist ending to any M. Knight Shyamalan movie, and when there isn’t any, you’re left with a feeling of being let down or disappointed. I can’t watch a movie now without noticing the hidden seed/gun/knife/bible. But, when the book/movie does pull off the seed successfully, it makes you think the writer was clever enough to fool you and you get that feeling of being impressed and that doesn’t happen much in movies or books anymore.

Mitchell Tierney

Published in: on June 7, 2011 at 11:46 am  Comments (3)