Month: June 2013
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I love punctuation.
There’s obvious punctuation (and punctuating) you learn in primary school: e.g. full stops, commas, exclamation marks, question marks, the apostrophe, and quotation marks. Bizarrely, in primary school they teach you to use “double quotes” instead of ‘single quotes’, which are the Australian style. (Somebody needs to get on top of that – it’s seriously a Federal issue.)
This primary school (read ‘primary’) toolkit of punctuation offers you more than enough tricks to punctuate any piece of writing, whether it’s a report, a short story, a novella, or whatever the case might be. You can pack it up, keep it in some remote nook of your mind, and carry it with you wherever you go, ready to be drawn on at a moment’s notice. If you never learned another bit of punctuation, you’d be okay – well, mostly.
As I grew older and read voraciously, I encountered other forms of punctuation, which seemed … amazing. Like the ellipsis. Always arriving, interjecting, just as a thought … trailed … away, or even off into …
Some authors were adventurers. They didn’t just use ellipses, they communicated a tone to be attached to it. This was an astonishing, a marriage of two forms of punctuation to create a child. Could it really be …? It was …! This, as far as I was concerned, was like musical notes, a way to imbue tone in narrative that was much more transcendental than words.
Another favourite was the dash. It’d sit there – and then something would be appended to it. Other times, it would – to my delight – contain an appositive bit of information which, when removed, let the sentence run as if uninterrupted. There was beauty in that. Grace. Even elegance. Use the wrong punctuation here, and the sentence would be indecipherable.
For a time there (around the time I was trying to learn coding in computers), I treated the dash like a coding instruction, which means if it was turned on, it had to be turned off. As long as you did that, your sentence was fine, and could contain as many dashes as required.
Now – now that I’ve been editing for a number of years, and a writer for over twenty – I realize – to my embarrassment – that an excess of dashes is confusing – and makes things hard to follow. It’s not illegal – I’ve seen some well-known writers do it – but a definite no-no, as far as I’m concerned.
Some books had freak dashes that were seemingly interminable—they were much bigger than the standard dashes. They were brazen, defiant, and—most disturbingly—greedy, given they ate the humble spaces that usually bookended a normal modest dash. They were, in fact, megalomaniacal. It wasn’t until I was tertiary educated that I learned these different dashes had names.
– hyphen, (inserted here for scale, and is used for hyphenation, e.g. set-up, twenty-six)
– en dash, (due to its width being equivalent to the letter n)
— em dash, (due to its width being equivalent to the letter m)
The em dash also had a unique purpose, that being to signify dialogue or narrative had been interr—
The colon and semicolon were like a married couple who complemented one another, the colon bold and forthright, the semicolon sly and subtle, yet both bearing a passing similarity – both in name and appearance, as if overlong wedlock had seen each impress itself on the other.
But their purposes differ drastically. My understanding of the semicolon remains innate; I can give you a textbook explanation of when and where it’s required, but in actual use, I rely on feel – on rightness. You have to be caring and thoughtful and intuitive when dealing with a semicolon. The colon is much more blunt. It demands when it needs to be used: when the clause preceding a list or explanation can stand by itself.
I could go on and on, but think I’ve covered all the punctuation you need to know, (and nothing else comes to mind presently). It’s enough to understand my ultimate point, though.
Read any text that immerses you or entrances you, and the punctuation will be unnoticeable. Oh, you’ll see it. Your eyes will follow it, your mind will interpret it. But the punctuation itself has the power and sway of a hypnotist. You’ll do what you’re being told – pause where you need to, hear an exclamation, infer a question, etc. – without even knowing you’re being directed.
You’ll just do it, and all you’ll take from what your reading is what you’re reading.
That’s the magic of good punctuation.
June 21, 2013
On a chilly Friday morning, before I was awake, I drove across town to the leafy suburb of Montmorency for my first day of work experience.
I could hardly believe my luck when Busybird co-owner, Blaise van Hecke, agreed to take me on. I have always wondered what it is like behind the scenes of a publishing house, and I was not disappointed. Is it as quirky and cool as it seems? Well, yes – to me it is.
When I first met Blaise, it seemed unlikely that butter would melt in her mouth … until I discovered that she likes to write stories about serial killers. I first learned of her darkly delicious tastes at a flash fiction writing workshop she was running at our local library.
I met the other two members of the Busybird team, co-owner, Kev Howlett, and publications manager, Les Zigomanis, when I arrived at the studio door last Friday. To begin with, Kev provided me with a comprehensive tour of their new studio – including the basement. Upstairs there is a light and airy gallery, Kev’s studio and the editorial area; while downstairs there is a photographic studio, a conversation pit, a toilet and a full size human skeleton. Despite the all-inclusive nature of the tour, nothing was said about the assemblage of bones in the middle of the room – and I did not like to ask.
Following the tour, Les sat down with me to discuss Busybird’s range of publications and the editorial protocols. Throughout the day, both Kev and Les were warm and attentive: Les made sure I was acquainted with the tea and coffee facilities and Kev kept interrupting his work to make sure I had tea/coffee/lunch – whatever I needed. They both have an unquestionably excellent set of priorities.
After so much attention, it became necessary to visit the basement again. This time I was by myself and it was pitch black, but I eventually found the light and tiptoed across the space. It did occur to me that it would be very easy for someone to flick the light switch and lock the door. What I didn’t expect was to find a heavy red curtain, like a theatre curtain, concealing the wall on one side of the toilet. I reached out and ran my fingers across the fabric – I was soooo tempted, but thoughts of Bluebeard filled my mind … Whatever lies behind the red curtain will have to remain as another element of the Busybird mystique – unless you are prepared to uncover its secret!
The mantra at Busybird is it’s all about the stories, and the new studio reflects that sensibility. There is a fairy tale aura about the space. I can almost see stories as embodied entities – teasing and beckoning – out of the corner of my eye.
– Lisa Roberts
June 12, 2013
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Jennifer E. Smith
Headline Publishing Group (London: 2012)
3 out of 5 stars
Recommended for girls aged 13-20
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight follows seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan over twenty-four hours, beginning with Hadley missing her flight to London by literally four minutes. Although this means she’ll be getting to her father’s second wedding with only a few minutes to spare, her lateness allows her to meet Oliver, a nineteen-year-old British boy who – surprise! – ends up in the seat next to her on her rescheduled flight. What follows is a ‘whirlwind romance’ between Oliver and Hadley; or, at least, what’s meant to be. Despite being marketed as a ‘sweet’ romance that will make you ‘believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it,’ most of the book is devoted to Hadley’s broken relationship with her father. Unfortunately, with only twenty-four hours (which bizarrely equates to eighteen – not twenty-four – short chapters), Smith unsuccessfully juggles Hadley’s rocky familial relationships, her blossoming relationship with Oliver, and Oliver’s own personal struggles. Consequently, no single scene has any particular significance, and everything gets resolved all too neatly.
I was first attracted to this book by its design; the title is quirky and original, and the cover is very appealing. However, there is a discrepancy between how Hadley appears on the cover and how she is in the actual novel. As there is no thorough description of Hadley (apart from a mention of her generic ‘blond hair and big eyes’) the reader imagines her as she appears on the cover, which is fine … until Smith writes about Oliver putting his hand on Hadley’s ‘bare leg.’ Having Hadley wear a miniskirt rather than the boyish jeans seen on the cover completely changes the reader’s perception of her, so it would’ve helped to have had a proper description from the very beginning.
The writing is generally clear and straightforward, which makes it easy to breeze through the chapters. But it’s nothing special. At times there is tense confusion and an awkward transition between third-person objective and third-person subjective. There are few errors, except for an unforunate one in what is mean to be a touching reconciliation between Hadley and her mother. When Hadley is trying to convince her mother that she should marry Harrison, her boyfriend, and be happy, she says, ‘He love you.’ The majority of readers would probably be able to ignore this glaring typo, but personally I felt it ruined the moment, which was already failing to be as poignant as it wanted to be.
Nonetheless, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a light, enjoyable read that will entertain you for a few hours. But I highly doubt it will ‘stay with you forever.’
– Ariel Skippen
June 7, 2013
What do George Orwell’s Animal Farm, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Albert Camus’s The Stranger, and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis all have in common?
They’re all novellas. In fact, they head the top five novellas on GoodReads’ World’s Greatest Novellas. It’s a list that contains books such as (just to name a few) Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Even if you haven’t read any (or all) of these books, in all likelihood you would’ve heard of their titles. With some, I bet you didn’t even realise that they were novellas.
Consider these word counts:
Animal Farm – 29,966 words
Of Mice and Men – 29,160 words
The Old Man and the Sea – 26,601 words
The Stranger – 36,014 words
The Metamorphosis – 21,810 words
A book doesn’t have to be obese to be good or meaningful, although given the way publishing has evolved over the years, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. In fact, the novella almost became a forgotten form, which is amazing given the quality of books in GoodReads’ list.
Lately, novellas have started making a comeback. This is probably for a number of reasons.
One would be epublishing. As e-readers tentatively found their way into the market, many couldn’t stomach the possibility of reading a fat book on an electronic screen. Shorter stuff was the go, (at least as a means of introducing people to e-readers).
Another is simply we live in an ever quickening society. Abbreviation seems the norm. Look at television shows. It was only several years ago that a television season was about twenty-two episodes. That’s almost gone. Now, about ten–twelve episodes is the go. It’s a part of a continuing trend. We have to compete with so many other forms of entertainment – Hollywood’s franchise-movie-making machine, the aforementioned TV, games that are almost movies themselves, snippets on YouTube (and on the list goes) – that something big and fat and which seems a long-term prospect can be overwhelming. You really just have to think of the way kids will baulk at a bigger book over a thinner book. That’s us today. Many of us have become kids in our appreciation and investment towards entertainment.
That doesn’t mean that the storytelling itself suffers. Far from it. Again, consult GoodReads‘ list. Size doesn’t guarantee quality, and a lesser length is by no means short-changing. People are falling in love – or back in love – with the shorter form. There’s a beauty and art-form to it which is unique.
Well, it’s long been the intent of our publisher, Blaise van Hecke, to introduce novellas to the Busybird library. Now we’re finally underway.
Busybird will be opening The Great Novella Search, a competition designed to find Busybird’s first novella. Submission details are simple.
Entry Fee: $25.00
Outcome: Your book will be published both in hardcopy and digital formats.
Word count: 20,000 – 40,000
Opens: 1st August Closes: 29th November
Genre: No genre specification.
Format: 1.5 line spacing, 12 point font, and remove your name from the document.
And don’t forget … to please number every page!
Also provide … a short bio of yourself and a synopsis of your novella.
Submissions will be accepted and paid for via Submittable. (The link will be available when the competition opens).
Alternately, hardcopies (containing novella, bio, and synopsis) can be mailed to:
PO Box 855
Makes cheques payable to Busybird Publishing or PayPal fees to busybird.at.bigpond.net.au. If you pay via PayPal, please also provide the receipt number of the transaction.
Feel free to email us if you have any queries.
And our official page for it can be found here.
We look forward to your novellas!