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39-37: The countdown continues to the biggest blunders.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves–this is not only the punch-line to a rude Panda/dictionary joke, it is also the title of the Lynne Truss book that was once immensely popular both sides of the Big Pond. It was obviously a shot aimed across the bows of incorrect grammar. She will be probably weeping over a decade on, as social media attacks grammar like necrotising fasciitis on crack. A friend was telling me recently of a relatively able pupil who wrote ‘b4’ in a piece of final GCSE coursework! I hope Micky Gove isn’t reading this, our very own P G Woodhouse/Alan Partridge/Dr Strangelove Education of State; he will have the Grammar Stasi wiring pupils’ eyes open like Alex in A Clockwork orange!  

I mention grammar here as some Grammarians would have the possessive apostrophe at the top of the mountain like Christ the Redditeemer in Rio …

39. Possessive apostrophes:  The ‘PA’ is the reason why greengrocers’ shops are reluctant to open! It might seem quite trivial in the scheme of other major things but it might be useful to know if an angry crowd are going to attack you−whether just one of them has a pitchfork or all of them? I suspect there may be a room at the NSA that monitors such grammatical crimes against humanity:

 “This individual threatening ‘The Homeland’ is woefully unaware how many greengrocers own the shop.”

“That is no excuse Operative Grammarnoid.”

We have just waterboarded him moments before Sir. There is a possibility it could have impaired his apostrophe placement judgement?”

“Still no excuse for poor grammar−lose his file Grammarnoid, when Amnesty International are on their lunch break.”

“ ‘Is’ or ‘are’ on their lunch break Sir?”

“Would you like to test the new electrodes Grammarnoid?”

This seems a good enough reason for the Grammar Stasi to incarcerate people. It could also be used as a test for drunkenness by Highway Patrol Officers, as it’s just the same level of complexity as recounting the alphabet backwards or counting back in 7’s from 100!

Is there one greengrocer in the shop or several working as a co-operative next to each other?, that will answer the possessive apostrophe conundrum. There are simple rules to the ‘PA’ that if you don’t know, once you start writing, you will, as someone will point them out!

38 Overuse of exclamation marks (dashes, ellipsis & semicolons). What is an exclamation mark trying to achieve; shock, expletive, interjection, implied amused humour? Use them sparingly, overuse will grate on people and render them less effective when you want to create a more dramatic point−if in doubt, take them out. You may want to use them to show that the first person narrator is over-excitable or immature, but think carefully!

On a similar vein be sparing with dashes and ellipsis. A dash can be very useful to connect two independent clauses: The Grammarians arrived−they seldom shared smiles. Used to emphasis an emotion: “I love The Grammar Stasi−we were in the same class at school”, and in interrupted speech:

“I really can’t stand the Grammar St−”

“Can’t stand not to have them listening in and correcting any outrageous errors we may make Agent Grammaroid.”

“Yes, Sir, that’s exactly what I was going to say.”

A dash can also be valuable in a piece of first POV narration to reduce the number of the ‘I’ pronoun and therefore repetition.

Ellipsis are also useful in direct speech to indicate a pause without having to describe it:

“Don’t you just feel like some days you want to get a big bucket of Tipp-Ex and paint out all the possessive apostrophes, Sir?”

“…No I do not Agent Grammaroid.”

The ellipsis could go at the end of the first piece of direct speech, but it has a more dramatic effect to give the dramatic pause to the authority figure.

Semicolons are falling out of fashion. You often see contemporary realism authors ignoring them all together. I see a time when they will disappear; if I live long enough! Language is fluid innit?

37. Getting as many opinions as you can find. For every five people that say they will read your manuscript, I will wager only one will manage to get to the end–that is not because it might not be good or great, but because we all have busy lives’. Reading a book requires dedication, one of your major rewards for being educated and having a concentration span is the ability to read a novel. I have talked about the three most common started and never finished novels (Ulysses, Catch 22 and Moby Dick–oh you’ve read that have you, but would you have if you weren’t made to read it at school?). Here’s the other problem, people start and like you your book, but don’t finish it. Ask as many people as possible and gently poke them frequently (stop giggling–you’re supposed to be a grown-up). Value everyone’s opinion, even if they are not a fully paid up member of the literati, they may still point out aspects you have not considered as fully as you maybe should have. Such as text and asides that slow the flow or parts that are obvious to you, but not the reader: “Oh I must have missed that!” Ultimately it is you that has to make the final decision, especially if you are trying to be brave and deviate from the more formulaic, but you would be foolish not to take on board the advice of somebody who knows more than you do.  What all this often boils down to is time and patience−you want to hold your book in your hand and dance around with it–but try and avoid the quick-step–what would Master Po say?

When I left my teaching job a friend gave me a card that read: “Take your time. To be in a hurry is to kill your talent. If you wish to reach the sun it isn’t enough to jump impulsively into the air.” –Peter Ustinov. She had read a first draft of one of my books, it was one of the best pieces of wisdom I have ever been given–“Patience truly is a virtue.” You don’t have to be Master Po to know this Grasshoppers!

Next week there will be no blog as I’m going to Saint Tropez on holiday (get me!)–I have a carefully designed topless swimsuit and I will be talking like Sacha Distel. If it makes you feel any better we are in a caravan!

@thewritingIMP   www.ianmpindar.com


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Both my latest books: ‘Hoofing It’ and ‘Hoofed,’ the first and second novels in The Robert Knight Series and are FREE on Amazon Kindle on the weekend 19-21 April. YES FREE!