Friday, June 30, 2006

Spelling Chequers!

Ever since Mr. Noah Webster decided that Americans should have their own system of spelling in defiance of the boringly venerable Englishman, Dr. Johnson’s, confusion has reigned. U.S. schoolchildren should be relieved that the suggestion, by the otherwise sensible and pragmatic Ben Franklin, to add a few extra letters to the alphabet was rejected.

If you write, as I do, in Oxford English, your American editor will complain of the number of spelling errors you have committed. Equally, if you use Mr. Webster’s system, English editors will look disparagingly at your efforts and suggest “corrections.”

It’s a no-win situation for the writer and it really does not make a bag of beans difference, to use an Americanism. Whichever system you elect to use, your readers will understand.

I always feel that you should stick to one language or the other, but even so, having lived and worked in both countries, I find it’s easy to get confused (having a wife from Texas is not much of a help either!). And here we come to the Spell checker which came with your word processor. Almost certainly it will be a programme written by a U.S. company and, not unreasonably, so will be the dictionary that comes with it. Training this gizmo to use your language is a bit of a lost cause – you’ll bound to miss a few things and wind up with an orthographic mish-mash.

But bearing in mind its limitations, it makes sense to run your work through the device provided commonsense is used – because it does not find an error does not mean your work is perfect, the error you committed may just happen to be the spelling for another word and will thus be ignored. You still need to read and re-read – and, as Murphy is always at the writer’s elbow, you’ll still miss a few errors.

And of course, no one should be out of reach of a good dictionary.

The best advice I can think of was contained in a little rhyme I ran across some time ago. Unfortunately I have no idea of the identity of the author but it should strike a chord with any writer:

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Writer's Circles

Unless you’ve written a best-seller (and not too many of us have), writing can be a solitary business and sometimes a few kind words and a bit of company can help.

Aunt Agatha may be proud of you but she’s probably not a very objective person to ask for her comments on your masterpiece. The solution might lie in joining a writer’s group where you can meet fellow beings in the same dire straits as yourself and commiserate of an evening.

There’s almost bound to be one such group in your area and to help you find one, Diana Hayden has a website: which contains a whole wealth of additional information besides.

One of my favourite P.G. Wodehouse stories concerns the Wood Hills Literary Society. Naturally, being a Wodehouse story it also concerns golf, but The Clicking of Cuthbert might be worth reading if only to show you the sort of literary circle you might wish to avoid!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Family Histories.

Finding someone to “ghost” your book is pretty easy – just search the Internet and they come up like a shoal of mackerel! But finding the one for your book that will produce the result you want is not that easy.

For a start there’s the terrible feeling that we’re all a bit high falutin and expect to be paid a minor king’s ransom for putting your words in order. This is all due to the media who report with glee that a celebrity (?) is being paid a fortune for his memoirs and that they will be penned by a ghost writer who will, presumably, have a pretty good chunk of the fee for his work.

But the reality is that most of us work in the lower echelons of the business, helping embryo authors to get their thoughts into book form. It’s not usually so much creative writing as intelligent and helpful editing – and, of course, this is reflected in the price, which is relative to the amount of time and research that has to be spent on the project.

These thoughts were sparked off by an enquiry I had yesterday from someone who would like to have their family history recorded in book form. As it seems that there is a more than adequate amount of detailed records available and that the chronological account is pretty much in place, it makes it relatively easy to produce a worthwhile publication at a very reasonable price.

I think more people have fascinating family stories hidden away than we can ever imagine. And most of them make much better reading than the “ghosted” memoirs of a here today-gone tomorrow “celebrity.”

And, after all, it’s my bread and butter!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Nuts and Bolts

I was asked the other day about the equipment in my office. Well, it is geared to produce everything from the initial MS to a printer ready computer file, typeset and formatted.

We have two new Dell desktop computers with old fashioned monitors, two laptops, a Gateway and a Compaq, a Canon Laser printer and a Lexmark colour printer, scanner and copier.

The software to drive all this lot is basically Microsoft except I prefer to use Abiword and not Word. This does not have the irritating whistles and bells of the MS product (“I see you’re writing a letter….” No, I’m not. Buzz off, you Microsoft midget) but is fully compatible. It’s also a free open source programme.

For typesetting and layout we still use Adobe Pagemaker but will no doubt upgrade to Indesign somewhere along the way. Graphics are handled using Adobe Photoshop.

For interviewing clients for their book, I have moved from the cassette tape recorder to the video camera which gives me a much better grasp of the character of the writer and of the purpose of their book. Being able to replay the video and see the expressions is a wonderful aid. I use a Canon XM2 camera which gives true TV quality pictures and these are edited using Pinnacle Studio software.

All in all it’s a pretty comprehensive set-up and has served me well. Being able to perform virtually every operation of book production in-house gives my clients a huge advantage when it comes to getting their idea to market.

Monday, June 26, 2006

More Bad News


A call from my other agent to tell me that she's arranged a tour of the UK in the autumn to promote my book - yes, that's right, the one I haven't finished yet! Then she E-Mails me a diary of speaking engagements just to prove it. Actually, I quite enjoy doing those - they can be pretty good fun.
The good news is that I got the editing job away on time and the client is pleased - now back to my book. When is Autumn anyway? October I hope.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Weekend Woes

Saturday, 24th. June 2006

Problem with being a hired writer is that weekends tend to be much like the rest of the week – time and authors needing help wait for no man.

So here I am, with the sun shining and the birds tweeting their hearts out, stuck at my desk finishing off an editing project promised for Monday.

The carefree existence of a dilletante writer (or a successful one) is not on the menu for ghost writers and we tend to have an almost 9-5 existence. In between the commercial chores, inevitably your own work gets left behind. For two years now I have been trying finish my history of the invasions of Britain, “Assaulting Britannia,” and very nearly made it last week. It was all packed up and ready to go. Then I re-read it, realised all that was wrong with it and here we are in the middle of a complete re-write!

Am working on a thriller for a client which needs some work on the characterisation and background details. So many MS I see lack these vital bits. The characters seem like cardboard cut-outs against a flat monochrome background and a lot of my work involves filling in these very important details to build up a picture in the mind’s eye of time, place and persona.

Leo (my agent) just called to ask about the Britannia book – told him to call back in 2007.

Got a request for a film script last week. Fortunately I have had some experience of these for they tend to be tricky. Firstly, the formatting required is totally different from a normal MS – and, if you don’t get it right, no-one will read it. Fortunately, there is some software out there which makes life a little easier but it’s expensive. Which is, I suppose, why most writer’s call for help on this. Just hope the MS is good and detailed when it shows up and has plenty of dialogue.

Back to work – more next week.