Hearing words, writing sounds: examining the author’s brain

Interesting article in the Guardian. (Now don’t all start going on about their historically atrocious record on spollings!  They’re a lot better now.)

Anyway, here’s the opening paras with a link to the full article at the bottom.

The novelist Kamila Shamsie measures out her life as an author in chapters, punctuated by a familiar ritual.

“Usually at the end of writing every chapter I’ll print out and read aloud,” she says. It’s something she’s been doing since university, she continues, citing the Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali, who told her “there are things the ears pick up which the eyes don’t”. As she sits on the lookout for repeated words, unexpected clunks or unwanted dissonances, it “feels like listening”.

“I don’t know how to say that any better. It’s about the sound of the sentences.” After years of “developing your ear for the sounds of language” she doesn’t have to think about “why a particular clump of syllables sounds wrong to my ear. I just know that it does.”

Brain scans of participants in the Johns Hopkins study

Hearing words, writing sounds: examining the author’s brain

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Books – Short or Long?

I heard on the radio today that there’s a move a-foot for authors to be paid by the number of pages that readers actually read, rather than by the book – I didn’t catch the whole article but I suspect a certain South American river may be the source of the story.

It’s certainly an interesting idea. In theory it would root out all those writers who (and I’m prepared for someone to say I ought to be included in this) really and truly shouldn’t be writing in the first place. I’m sure we’ve all picked up books that have a great cover, an intriguing title, excellent blurb on the back and so forth, but when we actually turn the pages (physical or electronic) and begin to absorb the content we find that the quality of the writing leaves something to be desired. Even ignoring the punctuation and spelling and just looking at the execution, we suddenly come face to face with paragraphs a bit like this:

The king had a princess he was going to mary off to the first guy who could rid his kingdom of the deadly menace that had been stalking his kingdom for many years in the form of a hideous monster. He made a proclamateon that anyone that could kill the beast would get his daughters hand in marriage as a reward for killing the beast.

“Let it be known that I will give my daughters hand in marrage as a reward for killing the monster that has been molesting my kingdom for many years.”

Hmm. No, I won’t reveal the book or writer because that would be poor sport, but the above exemplifies the quality of all too many works currently being offered to the public and marketed (okay, self-marketed in this case) as being ‘a great read’. (Alright, maybe there aren’t too many quite as dire as the above, but a fair few get awfully close!)

So maybe being paid for what the reader reads isn’t a bad idea. But there may be a problem.

Following that particular marketing strategy would, I think, result in a plethora of short stories and potentially hammer a nail into the coffin of full-length novels. It could become more economical for a writer to focus on tales of a score of pages rather than invest their time in producing anything more substantial. (If that’s where the money is, you can’t blame the author; they need to eat too, you know.)

That’s not to say established writers, the ones with great agents and funded by wealthy publishing houses (yes, admitting to a smidgeon of jealousy there!) wouldn’t still write epic tomes of adventure and daring-do. I’m sure they will. But for newbies it will mean there is less incentive to write ‘big’.

Writing a long piece is a great way to hone your burgeoning skills as an author. A single plot line doesn’t always suffice for a full-sized book so you will need to master the art of keeping track of multiple plots and sub-plots. You will have to learn how to develop your characters in a way that makes the reader (hopefully) empathise with (if not necessarily like) them. You have to come to grips with pace and tempo, as well as expanding your vocabulary so your reader doesn’t get fed up seeing the same word repeated over and over. And learn grammar rules so you avoid the sin of starting sentences with ‘And’!

And(!) what of the future? Will we become so accustomed to being spoon-fed with short-bursts of instant storylines that we lose the ability to concentrate on anything longer than a few pages? Where will the next Tom Clancy come from? The next Jane Austen? Terry Pratchett? (Hugely missed.)

So what I’m saying is, don’t forsake the big book in favour of the little book (and I confess to having written several shorts myself.) By all means read short stories, especially those written by newcomers, but also browse the catalogues and pick up the next Dune, the next Lord of the Rings, the next Dracula. If you don’t, our literary world might easily become a far less diverse and interesting place to be.


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The Scrapdragon, the Novel, FREE!

I thought you might all like to know that The Scrapdragon (the full novel) will be available for FREE DOWNLOAD from Kindle for 5 days beginning Monday 1st June.  Enjoy!

Book cover for The Scrapdragon

Book cover for The Scrapdragon

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The Scrapdragon, Now In Paperback!

The Scrapdragon, my first childrens/young persons fantasy-adventure book, previously only available on Kindle in 4 parts, is finally available as a complete novel, both in paperback form and as an eBook!  Both the paperback and the e-book are now available through Amazon.co.UK and Amazon.com, and the paperback should soon start appearing in other on-line stores – let me know if you spot it anywhere!

Book cover for The Scrapdragon

Book cover for The Scrapdragon

Here’s  an extract from the back cover:

On his 12th birthday, Tom Burrow (Tom-Tom to his friends) visited a fairground with his two best friends, Tinker and Tariq.  Unfortunately, they were spotted by some bullies from their school and had to run for it!  A November mist aided their escape and they found themselves at a shooting gallery, where Tom-Tom spotted a prize on a shelf and made his mind up he was going to win it.  He paid his money to the man behind the counter, picked up the air riffle and…

In addition to the story itself, the novel also features a map and a spell-book:  The Beginners Book of 30 Best Spells and Potions.  Remember to use those spells responsibly!

Happy reading!

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Anonymity and the Internet

Anonymity and the Internet.  :)

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Terry Pratchett

TPWhat can you say?  A great mind and brilliant talent is gone.  RIP Terry Pratchett.

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The Scrapdragon Book 1 – An Adventure Begins – Review

The Scrapdragon Book 1 – An Adventure Begins – Nigel Edwards.

Naomi (the Reader in the Tower) has reviewed book 1 of my children’s fantasy adventure series.

Actually, Naomi’s blog is a growing repository of really good, independent, quality reviews and is well worth checking out before you decide what to read next.

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R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy, the Legend who was Spock

And so a legend passes. Mr. Spock, aka Leonard ‘Eyebrow’ Nimoy, is no more. He will be long remembered as an amazing character who helped spark the imagination of countless numbers the world over, and certainly fuelled my love of SF.

Leonard Nimoy

Spock is dead. Long live Spock!

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Reminder about Snorky’s Moll…

Snorky's Moll

Snorky’s Moll. exclusive to Kindle.

…still available on Kindle from Amazon.  A ghost story with a difference!

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The Scrapdragon, Free on Kindle for 1 Week Only

Thought you might like to know that

A Metal Dragon drawn with Inkscape

will be available for free from Kindle from March 1st for 1 week only!  Enjoy!


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