Book Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

to say nothing of the dogWritten by Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog is “related” to Doomsday Book. I say related because the two stories are set in the future, and involve time travel, but the characters are different. Whilst Doomsday Book is set in medieval times – in the middle of the plague – To Say Nothing of the Dog is set in 1888 (mostly).

The author is talented in many ways. Her strengths are developing complex characters, who make you feel for them; settings that are so realistic, you feel like you are actually there; accurate details when it comes to historic information; so many twists and turns, that you never quite know where the story will go next; and, of course, bringing everything to a nice, tidy close.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is a prime example of all these things. This book had lots of humour in it too, which even I found amusing (and I’m a grumpy old woman; well, I’m not that old, but I am grumpy, you can ask my sons). Honestly, if you haven’t read this book, or this author, you should.

Now, here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

Ned is suffering disorientation, maudlin sentimentality and a tendency to beocme distracted by irrelevancies: classic syptoms of excessive time travel. And no wonder. Oxford’s history department has just pulled him out of World War II and Ned’s barely had time to wash off the gunpowder when he has a straw boater shoved on his head, a carpetbag in his hand and is thrown straight into Victorian England. For a holiday.

But an impossible accident makes it hard to relax. Ned’s holiday becomes a mad struggle to put together a historical jigsaw puzzle involving a cat, a diary, young lovers and the mysterious bishop’s bird stump. If he can’t make all the pieces fit it could mean the end of history itself.

Finding the Right Words

The editing is coming along nicely — slowly, but nicely. However, I have come across one paragraph that desperately needs rewording. Yet the right words will NOT come to mind. I’ve tried using words that mean a similar thing in the hope that something will pop out at me later, but even that isn’t working well. I even got my trusty dictionary out and tried looking up synonyms of words. It didn’t help.

Frustrated, I highlighted the paragraph and moved on. Hopefully, I’ll return to the paragraph later and something will spark my brain into action.

Failure

There is no failure – except in no longer trying.
Elbert Hubbard

I believe this is true. You haven’t failed until you stop trying. We all know that the publishing industry is hard to break into, yet some writers still think they will get published within a few months of finishing their manuscript. This rarely happens.

For those of us who want publication, the road is long and hard. We must ensure we know how the industry is changing. We must be open to suggestions and criticism. And, although there are plenty of writing communities to be found, we must learn to do this alone because it’s our own efforts that will get us through in the end.

Perseverance and patience are the two main ingredients needed. If you want to make it into the “published realm” you should never give up.

Diet: The End

We did it!

It took us 15 weeks, but the results have been worth it. We started dieting to lose weight and become healthier. Yet we also changed our eating habits, which we will utilise long term to stay where we are now.

And where is that, you might be asking:

Karen: I started out at 72 kg and I’m now 58kg. That is a loss of 14kg. I feel healthy, more energetic, and better about myself in general. I no longer hate what I see in the mirror.

G: He started out at 94kg and is now 73kg. That is a loss of 21kg. Considering he’s had a triple by-pass, losing weight was essential for him. He claims that he also feels much better about every aspect of his life.

We are both proud of our achievement. But I must make one statement, loud and clear: I will never, ever allow that weight to return. Never!

If I was an editor…

We hear horror stories about the slush pile all the time.

1. The great stories that have slipped through the fingers of an editor because they didn’t read it.

2. The dozens, more often hundreds, of rejection letters received by serious writers before they are accepted (if they are).

3. The gut feeling that the submission wasn’t even glanced at before it was returned to the author with a form letter saying “not interested”.

And there are many other things I could add to the list.

As writers, we repeatedly talk about the importance of having a great title, the perfect first sentence, correct formatting, acceptable grammar, writing styles and many other tips on getting our manuscripts noticed.

I want you to take off your writer’s hat and replace it, for a few moments, with an editor’s hat instead. This exercise is to help you see what it might be like to be faced with the following scenario every week.

Imagine yourself sitting at a big, wooden desk. Piles of manuscripts line the floor, the benches, the bookcases, and your desk. All these manuscripts are from writers who want their work to stand out from the rest.

You’ve been doing this job for many months, probably many years. And you generally only select three to five manuscripts for publication each year. Today, you have 100 manuscripts in your office.

How will you tackle the job of working your way through the “slush pile”?

Will you read every, single word of every, single manuscript and then make the all important decision?

Will you read the first three chapters of every, single manuscript?

Will you read each manuscript until it bores you, then reject it?

Will you read the first page and see if the writing style and story catches your attention? Rejecting the ones that don’t.

Will you first sort the manuscripts into two piles? One pile representing the poorly formatted manuscripts, which you’ll reject instantly, and the other pile being the manuscripts that have followed your guidelines and look professional, you’ll attempt to read these later.

Will you reject all of them, because you just don’t have time this week, and there will be another pile to go through next week?

Now, start your comment with “If I was an editor…” and tell me how you would handle the slush pile.

Grammar and Punctuation

I had to find some basic grammar and punctuation websites to post in a thread on my message board, and I thought it might be a good idea to place them here too.

I don’t believe a successful writer has to have talent. Anyone can learn to write, if they have the desire to do so. Some people, however, have to work harder at it than others. No one can allow themselves to become lazy in their writing, and it’s for this reason that I believe we must all return to the basics every so often to ensure we are still on the right track.

Here are some links that should be of help:

Owl Grammar Tips

WebGrammar

Get it write online – grammar tips

Ask Oxford – Better Writing

Edufind – English grammar and punctuation

English Punctuation – this is a module that takes you through the basic steps of punctuation.

Slacking Off

There are reasons, well, excuses, why I haven’t been doing my edit. However, this morning I woke up and I promised myself that I would do some editing today. After four hours of scanning old photos for my family tree, I turned my mind to Cat’s Eyes.

Last weekend, I merged chapters 1 and 2. Today, I worked through chapter 3 (which is now chapter 2, but I’ll talk in the old chapters so that we don’t get confused). This evening, I’ll turn my attention to chapter 4.

So far, I’ve found that all the critters agreed on most things. There are a few comments that leave me wondering if people do read the words presented to them, because I had one person complain that they didn’t know how old my main character is, yet her age is given in the second paragraph and again later in the chapter. And I had someone else say that I’ve obviously never seen two cats fight, yet I’m describing how my two cats fight and they are the real life Sophie and Jasper. Admittedly, I was a little annoyed at that last comment, but I got over it fast enough.

During this edit, I’ve discovered that a few words can make a big difference to the meaning of a sentence. I found that a confusing sentence (to the reader) only required a word or two added to clarify the situation. This means that the edit has been much easier than I thought it would be. Passive sentences are my weakness. I’m well aware of that and I’m trying to do something about it. Spotting the offensive sentences is hard work (for me), but I’m getting there.

Finally, I need to step up this editing phase. I’ve become complacent and I see this as a vise.