Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Stop Driving Me Dotty With Those Full Stops!

I watched 'Big Brother' yesterday—yes, yes, I know!  I didn't plan to become hooked on the wretched show this year but, as the great quizmaster used to say, "I've started, so I'll finish."  Anyway, this little gripe isn't about the programme per se, but about a tiny, niggling incident in it.

In a task, one of the contestants had to pretend to be a psychologist or an agony aunt (or uncle in this case) and a large sign saying "Dr. Callum" appeared on screen.  And this, I'm afraid, is my little gripe.  I hate the use of stops after Mr, Mrs, Dr and such titular abbreviations—so much so that my fingers itched to reach for the Tippex and apply a dollop to the TV screen.

I've grown used to seeing its use by our dear American friends (and have tried in vain to educate them), but I haven't seen this in British English in very many years (until yesterday).

At school—a long, long time ago—my revered primary school teacher taught me that if the abbreviated word ends with the same letter as the whole word, no stop is necessary.  Thus Doctor becomes Dr, Mister becomes Mr and so on and so forth.  To abbreviate a word like Professor to Prof., however, a stop is permitted because f is not the final letter of the full word.

I only became aware that the stop (or should I say period for our friends over the pond) is used in this way in American English when I found my first American publisher and little dots appeared all over my very first manuscript.

"No, no, no," I said.  "This is quite wrong."

"It's our house style," she explained.

"It's my pet hate—it looks so old-fashioned and wrong.  Please don't do it to me."

"We'll compromise, just this once," she said.  Lovely lady.

When a different publisher—this time Canadian—signed up my next novel, the same thing happened and I took up the cudgel again.  Once more, they let me have my way.  It's a tiny victory, but then I suppose it's a tiny matter.

Does it matter to you?  Do you place full stops after abbreviations?  And does anyone know if 'Big Brother' has an American working on its production team this year?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Readers Writes - Maria Moya from The Kindle Book Review

I haven't yet come across a writer who isn't an avid reader so it's not surprising that most prolific book reviewers are also writers.  This week's guest is Maria Moya, who reviews for The Kindle Book Review, which was how I 'discovered' her and asked her if I could interview her for this post.

Maria is  Austrian born and currently living in beautiful Vienna, making her  first language German.  She says, however, that for the last several decades she has read so much in English, that she now tends to think and write in that language. 

Welcome, Maria, let's get straight on with the 'inquisition'.  Firstly, I'd love to know a little bit about how or why you became a reviewer -  How do your reading commitments fit in with your lifestyle? 

Since I was about six years of age, I’ve always read a lot, to the point where my mother tried to forbid me from going to the library so often. 

For the last thirty years or so I used to be a diplomat. My profession interfered to some extent with my reading time, but I always kept the habit up. It helps that I don’t like watching TV.
Right now I’m taking a year off the job, and doing whatever gives me pleasure. I have started to write myself, and to exchange reviews of our works with other aspiring writers. 

Knowing how hard it is for the self-published writer to garner reviews, some weeks ago I joined the Kindle Book Review Team. We are unpaid volunteers who share a love of reading, and will review E-books on request.

Yes and I'm extremely grateful to you for reading and reviewing one of my titles.  You must receive numerous requests for reviews - how do you choose which books/authors to take on?

If I can find a link to the book, I use the “Look inside” function. Usually it is quite easy to see if a book is likely too bad to qualify for three or more points. I have long ago learned the art of rapid triage – in libraries, bookshops, and now on the net.

However, in several cases I have taken on books that started out very well, convinced I would be able to give at least four stars, only to have the middle sag or the ending fizzle. 

I agree, the 'Look inside' feature on Amazon is invaluable in helping to decide if a book is worth reading.  For me a 5* review means a book is literally 'unputdownable'.  How do you 'measure' a good book?

Indeed, I quite rarely give five stars. There is an objective and an inevitable subjective element involved. A book which is well-written, tight, without mistakes, may yet not enthral me because the voice simply does not speak to me, or the subject matter is not interesting enough. There are some famous authors I never could like – it is mostly a question of style, I believe, and rhythm. If the author’s voice has a rhythm that does not jibe with my own internal voice, I cannot truly love that book. 

At the end of the day, the really great book holds my attention from start to finish. If it does that, some flaws can be overlooked. Having read so much, though, I am now very picky and not easily impressed

How do you feel if you really like or thoroughly dislike a book you've agreed to review?

If I really like a book, I’m happy and express this in the review. I try not to agree to review a book I sense I’ll dislike, but sometimes you can’t tell in advance. If my feelings are too negative, I don’t do the review, as I would not do justice to the work.

Do you receive feedback from writers or other readers on your reviews?

I haven’t been doing this very long, but sometimes writers tell me they liked a review. 

I certainly appreciated mine!  Do you know if your reviews influence the success (or otherwise) of a new title?

Not my review specifically, but obviously all reviews together do have an influence, not least because the Amazon algorithm takes them into account and promotes books with more and better reviews. New authors are sometimes desperate to get some, and resort to all kinds of stratagems.

True, and sadly that has resulted in a good deal of bad publicity for many authors.  Now some more general questions about reading: Did you have a favourite book or author as a child?

Too many to mention. I was reading all the time, including adult books. Around thirteen I got
hooked on mysteries, science fiction, and adventure. Before I was sixteen, I had read the entire work of Agatha Christie, John Buchan, John Wyndham, Georgette Heyer, P.G. Wodehouse, and so many others…

Have you kept or sought out a favourite book from childhood to pass to your own children?  If so, what is it?

I tried, but my two daughters developed totally different tastes and preferences, to my regret. 

How significant was reading to you as a child?

It was absolutely essential, my principal pastime. At the time I wanted to become an editor. Maybe I should have.

How important is reading in your life now?

Still essential, though writing has become even more important. It is as though my brain was overflowing from all the stories and impressions it gathered over the years, and now simply needed to find a creative outlet. 

Have you ever revisited books you read in childhood to try to recapture the magic?

Yes. Sometimes it works, though clearly I’m not the same person any longer. But I also like to read well-written new children’s and Young Adult books I didn’t know then. For instance, I love the YA books by Nina Kiriki Hofmann, and I’ve read the Cherub series by Robert Muchamore.

Have you ever wished you could change places with any character from a story?

No need, because while I’m immersed in the story, I do become that character. 

Is there a fictional world you would love to visit or live in?

The late Ian M. Banks’s Culture would be an interesting place to live in. 

Do you think the young of today read enough, and if not, how might you try to encourage them to read more?

What is “enough”? We can’t encourage them by forcing classics on them, for which they are often simply not ready. If reading is taught as a chore, children will naturally hate it. It saddens me how much pleasure they lose out on by that, although interactive games and films seem to satisfy some of our natural craving for stories. The right (easy) book at the right time is the key to developing a love of reading.

Do you have a favourite book or author as an adult?  If so, who/why and have you read it more than once?

Again, many. I am particularly fond of Lois McMaster Bujold, Sharon Shinn, Jasper Fforde, Jane Austen, Christopher Brookmyre, - it could be a long list. Style and characters are the most important elements for me.

Do you prefer print or e-books?

Because my eyes are getting weaker, I was reluctant to read print books with very small fonts; now my Kindle has solved the problem. On balance, I like both, but will probably use the Kindle more and more over time. 

Do you think e-books will ever totally replace print?

I hope not, ideally they should co-exist

Would you tell us a little about your own writing?

Despite various attempts over the years, I found it impossible to combine my diplomatic lifestyle (which involved lots of socialising even on weekends) with consistent fiction writing; while writing speeches or reports, essentially non-fiction, was a constant part of my work. 

Even now, I find it easier to complete non-fiction projects, and have self-published several already, under various names, just like the hero of Killing Jenny Crane (if with less immediate success). 
Fiction is much more fun, however, and I plan to shortly publish a collection of genre-bending short stories that combine elements of science fiction, fantasy and fairy tales, to be called “There Are More Things”. Several longer fiction projects are gradually progressing towards publication. 

For more information about Maria, do check out the following links (and *calling all cat lovers everywhere*) do check out Maria's fun book: The Mysterious Cat. 

Thank you, Maria.  It's been so interesting talking to you and I can't wait to read There Are More Things, which sounds very intriguing.  Good luck with the release.