writing

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Prologues

Have you ever wondered what a prologue is? or whether to use it in the book you’re writing?
Below are a few thoughts by others on the topic, including a definition.

Prologues: what are they and how did they originate?

Some more on prologues.

A very useful post.

Why not to have a prologue.

I’ve noticed in recent years that the word Prologue is being substituted with Foreword (common in academic/non-fiction writing but becoming more popular in fiction) and Introduction. I suppose essentially ‘pre-story’ is the best substitute for the prologue whereas foreword and introduction generally provide other information the author thinks the reader should know, such as the reason for compiling a collection of short stories. As a reader, it depends on what I’m reading the book for as to whether I read the pre-story sections, as a minimum they all get a skim through. And for some of the information which is often included in the pre-writing section, it could work just as well at the end as an after-word. Here I’m thinking in particular of historical novels where the author sets out what they changed/adapted from the historical account – very useful for those of us who like to check historical accuracy…

TSL books which stand out as having a prologue/pre-story (other than historical books) include:
Alexander Crombie’s So Long Henry Bear.
Jitendra Kumar Mishra’s play The Cobbles of Kanke
James Martin Charlton’s historical fiction script Divine Vision
Ezra William’s short story collection Selected Pieces and Sue Hampton‘s various short story collections.

first published 25 September 2017, updated 2024

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The author’s journey

If you’re wondering about the writing process and how it works, here are a few posts by different authors.

David Vann on becoming a writer and how he does it.

Adam Rabinowitz explains his writing process.

In Heaven’s Rage, Leslie Tate explores the aspects of writing and the creative process. He shares more along with Sue Hampton and Cy Henty in The Dream Speaks Back.

George Saunders on what writers really do when they write.

Finally, while not on writing, I found reading 13 Ways of looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley very helpful in understanding the book and its relationship with the author, reader and publisher. Here, another reader on a writer’s journey shares her thoughts on the same book.

first published 7 August 2017, updated 2024

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Drafts – how tedious

Every author I speak to complains about rewrites and working through drafts. My author self does too, although to be honest, it can sometimes be quite a cathartic process – but that might be more so for non-fiction writing than fiction.

Regardless, the necessity of reworking the first draft is imperative. I can only shake my head in disbelief when an author says to me, ‘But I’ve already been through the manuscript 19 times.’ Only 19? The little forest (printed double sided of course) next to your shredder should speak for itself.

Until you get that first draft written though, you can’t do anything else with it. And, no matter how much it evolves or not, it will always contain that initial germ of an idea which developed and grew into the final product.

first published 25 August 2017, updated 2024

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The joy of language

Language is a funny thing – it’s fluid, it appears to be constant but the use and meanings of words change.
When we arrived in the UK from South Africa, we quickly learnt to say ‘trousers’ and not ‘pants’. The meaning were quite different in the two countries. What I understand by the word ‘now’ is not what a British person understands and to confuse them (British) even more, say ‘just now’ or even ‘now now’. Then in South African English we have ‘ja-nee’ (adopted from the Afrikaans meaning ‘yes-no’ – what??? I hear you exclaim).

So often I come across the same word used by authors in the same sentence let alone the same paragraph. When I was doing my thesis, I was reliably informed by one of my supervisors not to use the identical word in one complete sentence unless you absolutely had to. It made sense in terms of reducing confusion but more significantly enriched my writing (if only I could do the same when I speak).

To be honest, I hate the writing process – I only do it because it disseminates the wonderful stories that I discover as an historian. But the one thing I do enjoy about the art of putting words on paper is the challenge of finding synonyms – words or phrases. So I was particularly excited when I came across this article on lost words. And reassuringly, I’m not the only one who likes words, so does Ayòbámi Adébáyò.

And, rightly or wrongly, I’m all for recouping those lost words and reinstating meanings of a by-gone era. Too many words have been high-jacked for political purposes which in a global world such as the one we operate in, is most restrictive. Not least because it removes variety and the element of learning. I recall once being asked to reprimand a student for plagiarism – the evidence? They had used the word fracas. Such a ‘big’ word used by a student from India in the UK automatically meant they’d cribbed from somwhere. The student was not reprimanded but the staff member was given a lesson in cultural nuances. So long as we keep insisting that authors write to meet ‘our’ language requirements publishers are not going to break down cultural barriers and truely embrace diversity.

(I can’t help but chuckle that the ‘readability’ sampler on this blog says ‘needs improvement’: no sub-headings, one-third of the sentences are too long and shock-horror! I’ve written in the passive voice).

Why not try some books written in a non-traditional English style? For starters, here at TSL we have:
Shaka are Dead
The Roots that gave birth to Magical Blossoms
Kenya Days, Moonlit Nights
Then there’s:
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Haskek

first published 4 January 2018, updated 2024

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Dangling Participles

A reviewer once contacted me to tell me that his review would be slightly delayed as he had spotted a dangling participle and a significant other in his life just would not let him live it down if the dangling participle snuck out into the wider world.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of a dangling participle before – not even in English lessons at school. So I looked them up and it all made perfect sense. It was a logic association issue which now had a label (a useful label on this occasion).

So if you don’t know what a dangling participle is, take a look here – you might just discover you recognised it but didn’t know its name. And they (dangling participles) should never appear in your writing – they only confuse the reader.

Hopefully all dangling participles have been removed from TSL books. Why not put us to the test: many TSL books are also available as ebooks

first published 18 May 2017, updated 2024

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Reading and Children

Without writers, there wouldn’t be books to read to children – your own or others. Watching their reactions to what they hear and later hearing them retell the story can be wonderful and a real eye-opener. And conversely, would we have authors if children weren’t inspired by the stories they heard growing up?

Robbie Cheadle, one of our children’s authors is a great promoter of reading to children as she explains. She also discusses whether childen should be allowed to read sad and scary books.

Jane Fallon talks of the books which influenced her as a writer. A number she read as a child.

Sue Hampton, another of our authors, has written over 20 children’s books (Y4x4, I am Me and ,I am Me 2 published by TSL). Clearly Sue sees a point in children reading and being read to.

In case you need more convincing, here’s an article on the 5 Joys of raising bookworms by a bookworm.

Looking for something different for children to read? Try something off these lists.

Christmas Stories recommended by Robbie Cheadle – 5 books

Kenyan stories- 9 books

Children’s Book Review for 2017 and more generally

Little Linguist seems to offer books in dual languages aimed at children – a good way to learn a language and about different cultures.

first published 29 March 2017, updated 2024

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Handwriting

23 January is #nationalhandwritingday

I am really grateful to my school history teacher (we had the same amazing woman for 5 years) who taught us to write an A4 page in 10 minutes. She knew that if we couldn’t do that, we wouldn’t pass our history exams. That was in the pre-computer era.Then when I became a teacher, in the computer-era, I had a real struggle to teach my students the same skill. By then it was more imperative (can that be possible?) for handwriting training so students had the stamina to get through an exam writing by hand when everything else was done on computer.

There are pros and cons to both handwriting and typing, but overall I think the skill of handwriting is far more valuable than that of typing. Fine motor skills which can’t be developed on a machine. For many of us, our initial thoughts take place on paper – words or doodles, there’s invariably a piece of paper to write on irrespective of where you are whilst a computer or android, mac or other tablet is not.

As a writer, I use both handwriting and typing – depending on what I’m doing, where I am and what my deadlines are. Interestingly, my writing approaches and styles differ between the two and I noticed when experimenting with voice-activated typing systems that my style was completely alien to what it was when I wrote. It must be that different parts of our brain are stimulated by each respective recording method.

This seems to be supported by others.
The Guardian reports
Freakanomics found mixed results – I think more quickly writing than typing (less distraction)
BBC claims the writing is on the wall – so true. If I haven’t written for a while, my handwriting is ill-formed and doesn’t flow as smoothly
How does it all differ to caligraphy? Chinese calligraphy is a prize-art form.

Importantly, children with dyslexia and dyspraxia should be encouraged to write – not for writing’s sake but because of the other benefits. Some helpful advice can be found on how to manage the challenges these children face. And there’s a National Handwriting Association.

Convinced that handwriting is important and need to improve yours? Here are some handy tips.

And for those needing some inspiration for story lines, perhaps the Hidden Code of handwriting might help.

How do you create your masterpieces? Please share but don’t forget to let us know what type of masterpiece you create. That is just as important in determining the most appropriate creative process.

“Work on a good piece of writing proceeds on three levels: a musical one, where it is composed; an architectural one, where it is constructed; and finally, a textile one, where it is woven.”
― Walter Benjamin

Thanks Pablo for the image

Have you seen?

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The sign of a good book

What is a ‘good’ book? For me, it’s rarely a best seller. It’s a book which makes me think and spot something new every time I read it or one I’m not likely to go back to read again because of the emotions which remain with me. Here’s what other think:

Books that stay with you contains some of those I regard as fitting the category.

Thanks to Pablo for image

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Tropes

I came across the word tropes related to comic-books in a book I was recently reading, so I decided to see what the internet suggested. I was amazed…

TV Tropes is an ‘official site’ noting on its home page:


Merriam-Webster defines trope as a “figure of speech.” For creative writer types, tropes are more about conveying a concept to the audience without needing to spell out all the details.

The wiki is called “TV Tropes” because TV is where we started. Over the course of a few years, our scope has crept out to include other media. Tropes transcend television. They reflect life. Since a lot of art, especially the popular arts, does its best to reflect life, tropes are likely to show up everywhere.

This link got a little more academic, whilst Wikipedia explains a little more simply, including variations.

I think I’ve got it – but please, don’t ask me to try and explain.

And to cause a little more confusion – memes are introduced here (click on image)

Thanks Pablo for the image

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Language – crossing boundaries

With the increase in cross-boundary and cross-cultural writing, it’s important that the writer gets the language of the protagonists right but also to ensure that the reader knows what is meant.

The importance of this was brought home to me quite early on in my stay in England – in South Africa what we call pants are called trousers in England, while pants in England refer to underwear. There are different definitions/understandings of the term now which I won’t even venture to explain in text – if you’re curious, find a South African and ask them to explain the difference between now, just now, and now now. Engaging with a Caribbean colleague enlightened me to a different meaning behind the verb to cane. In South Africa and it appears British school slang this was to get a hiding whilst in Jamaica it meant to get high on drugs. An article in the Harrow Times brought introduced another meaning of the verb to ride. But sometimes, it’s more straightforward than double (or triple) meanings. Sometimes, terms are used from another language.

So how do authors convey these different interpretations of words to ensure their readers get the point?
Anna Ryland’s A Second Chance has a glossary at the end of the book for those who want to double check they’ve understood the Polish terms used. John Samson’s Shaka are Dead and Maya Alexandri’s The Celebration Husband make the meaning explicit through the context in which the slang is used.

Thanks Pablo for the image