Fan fiction – or fanfic – is a genre that’s been floating around on the edges of my consciousness for a while now, and it’s been quietly fascinating me.
Is it plagiarism? Is it unoriginal? Is it a homage to established authors? Is it a love letter to famous works?
Fanfic does use a published author’s characters, settings and ideas – unauthorised (see what I did there?) – so there is a huge red flag waving above the issue of copyright and intellectual property.
But fanfic is rarely professionally published, so its author isn’t necessarily making money from somebody else’s hard graft.
Although… 50 Shades Of Gray was famously fanfic born out of the Twilight series of books, and has arguably gone on to garner just as much (financial) success. 50 Shades author EL James changed only the names of the lead characters to avoid infringing copyright.
Then, of course, you have all the Jane Austen novels whose plots are closely mirrored in very poorly disguised ways in modern films (and books): Clueless, based on Emma; Material Girls, based on Sense & Sensibility; Bridget Jones’s Diary, inspired by Pride & Prejudice and even having a love interest called Mark Darcy!
The characters and settings might not be original but many of the ideas, events and storylines sure as heck are. Have to give credit to the fanfic creators for their imagination…
Well, would you write so much about a character you hated? Even if you did find a particular author’s canon risible, parodying it is a form of homage, too, isn’t it?
See above – the fact that much fan fiction is enjoyed by what amounts to a clique of a famous author’s supporters, with the resultant fanfic rarely being published for money, points to a particular kind of ardour.
Personally, I’m quite envious of fanfic authors’ output. They’re being creative, they’re making up stories, they’re writing. Kind of admirable, no?
They’re forming an entire community of fanfic authors, readers and crits, and even have their own terminology, eg, “drabble”, which is a piece of writing that is only 100 words, and “shipping”, which means… well, this is far too complex to define now. Read more here.
The fact that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello and As You Like It were apparently all based on fiction by other authors is merely proof that fanfic is nothing new.
How many human stories can there be in the world? Even when we’re writing about dogs, aliens and robots, we still attribute them with human fears, hates, loves and desires! All the stories in the world are just an endless recycling of the same emotions played out in a limited number of ways by different characters in different settings.
Why wouldn’t admirers of a particular genre or author play around with their characters and settings and come up with their own plots? While, at the same time, forming a community of likeminded fic lovers and storytellers?
Well, not every published author is happy with this movement, and it’s not really surprising. Even if you don’t want to protect your income source (and, let’s face it, who wouldn’t?), you’d want to get full credit for the art you create, wouldn’t you? Your work is your baby.
While JK Rowling has said she is “flattered” by fanfic, Twilight’s Stephenie Meyer is grudgingly pragmaticabout it, and Interview With The Vampire’s Anne Rice and Game Of Thrones creator George R R Martin are vehemently opposed to such works.
Indeed, Martin has said: “My characters are my children… I don’t want people making off with them, thank you. Even people who say they love my children. I’m sure that’s true, I don’t doubt the sincerity of the affection, but still… No one gets to abuse the people of Westeros but me.”
Neil Gaiman once said, “I think that all writing is useful for honing writing skills. I think you get better as a writer by writing, and whether that means that you’re writing a singularly deep and moving novel about the pain or pleasure of modern existence or you’re writing Smeagol-Gollum slash you’re still putting one damn word after another and learning as a writer.”
But Martin also said: “Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out.”
So this war of words rages on…
Where do you stand?
I’m not one for looking back – no regrets! – but now that Green Gables Editing has been up and running for three years I thought it was about time I completed a review of the past year.
And I’m glad I did. It reminded me of the lovely clients I’ve had the pleasure of working with, the diversity of projects I’ve worked on, the reason I launched Green Gables Editing* and how much I love my job.
In 2022, I:
🏠 Wrote news and features, sub edited and designed pages for the local newspaper
🏠 Edited web copy and a yearbook for a global event organiser
🏠 Edited brochure copy for a Scottish women’s charity
🏠 Edited web copy for a newly launched consultancy firm
🏠 Edited packaging copy for a chef
🏠 Advised a first-time writer on how to structure her planned book
🏠 Edited web copy for a financial advisor
🏠 Edited a book on animation
🏠 Wrote a Burns Night speech
🏠 Performed a developmental edit on a self-publishing author’s opening chapter
🏠 Provided an in-depth edit sample to a self-publishing author.
In addition, I provided complimentary web copy edits and wrote press releases for a cancer charity, and voluntarily managed the social media platforms for a businesswomen’s networking group.
It has been an absolute blast, and I have loved every minute of it, thanks to the diversity of the projects and the sheer loveliness of my clients.
Thank you to them – I look forward to working with you again!
And looking to the year ahead… I hope to have more of the same while also factoring in a couple of new services I’m currently working on. Hint, hint, no spoilers!
If 2022 was a nourishing and delicious meal, I’m thinking 2023 will be a veritable feast, with tantalising amuse-bouches, three savoury courses, a dessert with sparklers and a cheeseboard that I’ll insist I don’t have room for but will still nibble at as we continue chatting.
* Because I love a challenge. And, launching just as Covid hit, it’s a good job I do…
The Oxford comma.
Hoo boy, now there’s a contentious subject.
Raised as I was with English literature and writing, I was – until recently – a vehement opponent of the Oxford comma.
And I love commas.
But I must confess I’ve come round to the idea and admit that the occasional Oxford comma helps to avoid confusion.
What is the Oxford comma?, I hear someone ask.
(More to the point, why is it called an Oxford comma, since it’s a very American* feature?***)
The Oxford comma is also known as the serial comma, which makes more sense.
It’s a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, and before ‘and’ or ‘or’.
For example, “an orange, an apple, and a pear”. “Chocolate éclair, lemon meringue, or rhubarb crumble”.
I always thought that final comma in a list was unnecessary. What misunderstanding could possibly arise from a list citing an orange, an apple and a pear?
Well, none, since that’s a fairly benign and simple sentence.
But let’s look at a sentence shared by renowned writer and editor Benjamin Dreyer about Donald Trump:
The highlights of his waning administration include encounters with Rudy Giuliani, a healthcare disaster and a dildo collector.
What does that sentence say to you? It could be merely a list of three items – but it could be explaining that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is a healthcare disaster and dildo collector.
And litigation fears would make that claim undesirable.
The serial comma is almost obligatory in American English, its ability to resolve ambiguity being the most powerful argument for its use.
However, that litigious statement about Mr Giuliani could simply be rearranged to state:
“The highlights of his waning administration include encounters with a healthcare disaster, a dildo collector and Rudy Giuliani.”
No misunderstandings there, surely.
In fact, as the Wikipedia page points out, the serial comma can introduce ambiguity. The example it uses says:
“They went to Oregon with Betty, a maid, and a cook.”
Is that a list of three things? Or is Betty a maid?
Which is why the Oxford/serial comma is not obligatory in British English and can be used at the writer’s/editor’s discretion.
Are you a fan of this grammar tool?
* This is my opinion. I’m going to look this up and confirm**.
** Wikipedia says I’m right: “British English allows constructions with or without this comma, while in American English it is common and sometimes even considered mandatory to use the comma.”
*** It was first mandated for use in Hart's Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford [my emphasis]
Hands up who's looking for a literary agent.
If you're a writer keen on getting published using conventional methods, your best bet to get publishers to notice you is the legendary literary agent.
Legendary because they have traditionally been seen as a "gatekeeper" to publishing success, and also because they are the first port of call for critical feedback.
I attended a talk by four literary agents at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to hear more about their role in the industry, and also any tips they might have for budding and ambitious authors.
The agents were:
• Emma Paterson (Aitken Alexander Associates)
• Chloe Seager (Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency)
• Abi Fellows (The Good Literary Agency)
• Isobel Dixon (Blake Friedmann Literary Agency).
They were interviewed by Heather Parry, co-founder of Extra Teeth literary magazine and the Society of Authors’ senior policy and liaison manager for Scotland.
First of all, I will say that none of the women was at all scary. Not even the tiniest bit. They were reasonable, approachable and softly spoken, so I shall cast aside my previous understanding of them as being hard-nosed and brusque...
So, first off – do writers really need a literary agent?
Chloe said: "I can't imagine the publishing process without agents. We are fighting on the author's behalf. We're managing the author's career, talking about their writing, their next steps, publicity... We are the middle man. We are on the writer's side."
That last point is the most apposite – an agent is not your enemy. They know if your writing will sell, can help you edit and rework it in the first instance, then sell it to a publisher, oversee and approve contracts, liaise with editors and publishers to see you through the process, make sure you're getting paid...
And the agent doesn't get paid unless you do, so they're going to work hard on your behalf!
(Heather added here, in her role with the Society of Authors, that authors shouldn't sign a contract with a literary agent until the SoA has had a look at it and made sure it's all above board.)
So, what are literary agents looking for among the thousands of submissions they get sent by authors? The women agreed on the following, among other points:
• The writer must have conviction (in their own story)
• The voice must be distinct
• There is an element of gut feeling, before the agent thinks strategically about whether the story can be sold
• The work should be tapping into conversations that are bubbling up (since it typically takes a year or so for a book to be published, writing that predicts what will be talked about is on to a winner)
• Sentences should sing on the page
• A rhythm and tightness of writing.
Ultimately, though, Isobel said: "The magic is hard to describe!"
While agents are canny with their knowledge of the markets and what is likely to sell, they are also human and therefore subjective, so don't be too downhearted if they don't connect with your work.
And that connection is definitely what the agent is after. Authors are generally asked to submit a cover letter, synopsis and first chapter or two of their work. You might think the synopsis would get read before the sample – the agent wants to know the plot, right? – but that's not necessarily the case.
Isobel said: "I read the letter then go straight to the first page of the sample, then to the synopsis. There is no point reading the synopsis at all if you don't like the writing."
And if the agent loves your work and is convinced by it, the author also has to have that conviction in their writing, as Emma reiterated.
"The writer must have conviction in their work because it will need to persuade [publishers, editors, readers] when it's out in the market – and before," she said. If you aren't passionate about your writing, why should anyone else be?
Passion was a concept Isobel also referred to in the relationship with her clients. She compared that professional connection with love affairs, the chemistry necessary to make it work.
"The chemistry has to work," she said. "I want to be with an author for a long time. You have to have that passion at the beginning [of the relationship]. You can't think, 'I will maybe take a punt on this.' That won't end well."
One interesting question, in this day and age, was about social media exposure, and whether agents thought authors should be active on social media platforms.
The overwhelming response was 'not necessarily'.
It does seem to depend on the genre the author is writing in, specifically whether they are writing for adults or children.
Chloe, who works with children's and YA authors, said that being active on social media wasn't important in the initial stages but authors should show a willingness to engage with audiences via social media and at author events.
She added: "It is a tricky balance engaging on social media and maybe saying the wrong thing, especially in children's and YA writing."
Abi pointed out that social media can be a toxic place, and her duty is to safeguard her authors.
She said: "There is a danger in excluding those who aren't or can't be on social media platforms."
In fact, Abi was the most vocal about the need for diversity in the industry, and the importance of making it accessible and attractive to all.
A final word on the chat about editing, which of course made me prick up my ears, because that's my job, in case you hadn't noticed.
It seems that publishers' in-house editors are more and more stretched these days, and ideally want to see work that is already as 'clean' as possible.
The agents themselves do quite a lot of editing before submitting a work to publishers, pre-empting what publishers will like or dislike.
Emma said: "You need to feel as confident as you can of the work's editorial quality."
Isobel added: "I am always looking for reasons an editor will turn a work down."
So at this point, I'd like to proffer my services as an editor who can clean up your work before you even submit it to an agent. Let's get that work of art as shiny and beautiful as possible before you send it on its journey.
I’m learning Spanish. Cómo estás? Me llamo Isla. Tengo dos hijos y un perro.
That’s about the sum total of my conversational ability.
What I’m really enjoying about the lessons, aside from my wonderfully eccentric tutor Ana Maria, are the grammar pointers she gives the class.
I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, I wasn’t taught grammar at school. Knowing what is right and wrong came organically through reading many, many books.
(Ana Maria has to give grammar pointers in English precisely because none of us understands our own language, and we have to be able to before we can understand Spanish. Rolls eyes emoji.)
I am always fascinated when Ana Maria names and explains a rule I knew but didn’t know I knew.
My latest favourite: when we use “something” or “anything”*.
I hadn’t ever paid the blindest bit of notice to when or why I say “something” or “anything” but, when you think about it, there are definitely contexts that require one over the other.
As Ana Maria explained: “If we have been for a hike, and you come back to my house, I might say, ‘Do you want something to eat?’ The assumption is that you will answer yes. The assumption is that you are hungry and will want something.
“If I say, ‘Do you want anything to eat?’ I am open to the fact you will say no.”
The implications of this rule blew. me. away.
I had never thought about it like that!
Generally, in English we use “something” in a positive sentence or expecting a positive response; but we use “anything” either in more negative sentences or not assuming there will be a positive response.
“I got something lovely for my birthday”
“I haven’t eaten anything”.
Have a think about this. Isn’t it great?
* We needed to learn this because Spanish does not use the word “anything” (or “any” or “anyone”). Depending on the context of “anything” in an English sentence, Spanish would use “something” or “nothing”.
One of the most important things about communication is making yourself understood.
Simple messages, expressed clearly using uncomplicated language.
Left to my own devices I’m naturally pretty voluble, thanks to my formative teen years reading swathes of Victorian literature, lol.
But where I let rip in my personal writing, when it comes to sharing essential information, I believe in getting to the point.
Management speak annoys me. Bureaucratic twaddle infuriates me. Complicating a sentence doesn’t make it more important. Making up new words in place of perfectly serviceable ones that already exist isn’t clever, it’s egotistic.
But if corporate jargon irritates me – someone who works with words – what about those with much more serious literacy issues?
The isolation and exclusion faced by those who struggle with reading and writing is something that has bothered me for some years, ever since I started helping five-year-olds to read in my children’s primary school classes.
But it was highlighted and emphasised during a workshop at last year’s CIEP conference.
The conference was hosted by Cathy Basterfield, of Access Easy English, a service which interprets written content into simple everyday language, often supported by images.
The statistics Cathy shared at the workshop were eye-opening, to say the least.
Data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult
Competencies has shown that 33.1% of UK adults and 31.5% of US adults do not have the literacy to manage a range of day-to-day reading tasks.
When you think about the sheer amount of written information you encounter every day, imagine how hard it is for someone who can’t read to navigate.
Instructions for medication. Bank statements. Letters from the local authority. Ingredients on a cereal packet. Directions to a venue. Consent forms.
As Cathy pointed out, everyone has a right to access the same information, and everyone has an equal right to be able to access it at the same time.
Indeed, this right is expressed in the United Nations’ Article 21 – Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information.
Put simply, everyone has the right to receive information in a way that is understood, such as sign language, braille, large print, so it can be heard, using easy words and pictures, or in a different language.
It’s not just a case of being “fair” or polite*.
People with serious literacy issues are more likely to:
• live in poverty
• struggle with employment
• have poorer health
• be involved in the justice system.
It is incumbent** upon us all to make sure our message, whatever it might be, can be understood by everyone. Whatever the reason for an individual’s issue with literacy, that isn’t the point. Making information accessible and easily understood makes people’s lives easier.
And who wouldn’t want to help with that?
*At this point, some people would probably use the word woke. I’m not going to.
** I could have just said necessary
You don't have to be brilliant at writing to write a great novel.
Several authors are fantastic at building a story arc, creating gripping plot lines with believable characters, but are not so hot at sentence construction or grammar.
And that's okay – because there are people out there who can help you.
From the developmental editor, who will steer you in the right direction when it comes to plotting your book, to the copy editor who cleans up spelling and grammar, there is a wealth of experts out there who are on your side, and just as invested in your book as you are.
Here's an excerpt from a really gripping book I edited recently. The author knew her story was good (and it really is) but wanted the grammar and punctuation cleaned up.
I spent a little time reading through and changed the opening paragraphs from this:
Eight-year-old Daniel Edgar lay on his bed, sore from the welts from his father’s belt. He had overslept by five minutes making him late for breakfast, his father was livid. He tried not to give him the satisfaction of tears, had taken it like a man until he got to the sanctuary of his room where he let all of his emotion unleash. Half an hour later he heard the sound of his mother Mary entering the room, she rushed over to him, kissing his head and soothing him, she softly cried. “Why did you have to be late?” She whispered, “You know how mad that makes him. She gave Daniel some paper and pencils, “maybe you can do some drawing?”
Eight-year-old Daniel Edgar lay on his bed, sore from the welts left by his father’s belt. He had overslept by five minutes, making him late for breakfast – the welts were a mark of his father’s anger.
So many people have great ideas for a story but think they can't write; they're no good at it.
Just have a go! Sit down and type without looking at what you're writing.
Dictate your copy out loud into a speech-to-text app.
It's such an achievement just getting your story down on paper.
Read it through; get a friend to read it through. Does it have potential? Could it become a real book? Will it have readers laughing, crying or hiding behind the sofa?
Then consider getting a professional on board to whip it into shape and, voila, you have a manuscript.
Words that people get confused, part XIII
Predominately and predominantly.
I was going to write a nice little piece about the difference between the words ‘predominately’ and ‘predominantly’, explaining that people often confuse them and that’s understandable.
But now I’ve done some research to underpin my own knowledge and that has thrown up a few issues which actually undermine my knowledge, so this piece will now be a short essay on the evolution of language and how even experts can get caught out…
To begin at the beginning, as a great poet* once said…
I heard someone use the word ‘predominately’ in what I thought was the wrong context, saying something consisted ‘predominately’ of something else.
Ha, I thought, they mean ‘predominantly’.
Let’s look at the definitions:
predominate | prɪˈdɒmɪneɪt | verb [no object]
predominant | prɪˈdɒmɪn(ə)nt | adjective
Now, what I believed, and what the definitions show here, is that something can predominate in a given situation but it doesn’t do it ‘predominately’.
For example, wrens predominate (verb) in the UK as a bird species. They are the predominant (adjective) species. Birds in the UK are predominantly (adverb) wrens.
Fairly cut and dried, yes?
Turns out, ‘predominately’ can be used in place of ‘predominantly’. They mean the same thing!
I dove deeper into this lexiconic conundrum.
US dictionary Merriam-Webster states that the two words can be used interchangeably, which proves to be a contentious position, judging by the comments left on its web page.
The online Cambridge Dictionary, despite providing examples of the word ‘predominately’ used in sentences, says the word isn’t in the Cambridge Dictionary yet.
Wiktionary states that, though ‘predominately’ is the older word (by 100 years, being recorded in use as far back as 1594), ‘predominantly’ is now preferred.
It seems that what happened is that English, having as its foundation several squillion other languages, took two words meaning the same thing from two different languages and kept them both, like a vocab hoarder.
Predominantly is derived from Middle French, while predominately is derived from Medieval Latin.
I think we need to do a little Marie Kondo clear-out of our language so we don’t keep getting confused.
In the meantime, of the two words, the one I will predominantly be using is…
* Dylan Thomas.
Kangaroo words. Turns out they’re a thing. I discovered them relatively recently, and only because they’re an added fun fact in my daily puzzle page app.
But now I dig deeper I discover there’s a whole website devoted to them (https://kangaroowords.com*).
So, what is a kangaroo word? Is it one that jumps about on the page? Is it Australian slang? Is it one that keeps a baby joey in its pouch?
No, no and sort of.
Yeah, sort of.
According to the website, a kangaroo word is one that ‘contains letters of another word, in order, with the same or similar meaning’.
So it sort of contains a baby joey word in the pouch of the bigger word.
That’s literally why they’re called kangaroo words.
p R O m e n A D e
You can see the word ‘road’ picked out as capitals in the synonymous word, promenade.
Another good one is C o n T A I N e r, which, erm, contains two synonyms, ‘can’ and ‘tin’.
That’s known as a ‘twin kangaroo word’, for obvious reasons.
A ‘grand kangaroo word’ is one that has two joey words but one within the other, so even the baby joey has a pouch containing another baby joey.
e x P U R G a t E, which incorporates ‘P U R g E’, which contains ‘pure’.
I’m not going to lie, I love this little wordy gimmick. It was clearly an accidental development but very much suits my penchant for linguistic schtick.
Whoever noticed this particular coincidence** and named it also saw fit to note the ‘anti-kangaroo word’, which is not, as you might think, just two words sitting next to one another, but a word containing a joey word that is its antonym, such as
A n i M o s I T Y.
Animosity here holds the word ‘amity’, a word very much opposite in meaning.
And now you know about them, I’m sure you’ll be going through all the words – yes, ALL OF THEM – with a fine-toothed comb looking for little baby joey words.
*If you do visit this website, you will find it is a veritable rabbit hole of interesting etymological information.
** Ben O'Dell, in an article for The American Magazine in the 1950s, later reprinted in Reader's Digest. Sadly, though I scoured the internet for about 15 minutes, I couldn’t find out anything more about Mr O’Dell.
I was really glad when the summer holidays were over, and I’m a bit nervous we’re now into the school half-term holiday… and here’s why.
Every time someone misused the word ‘staycation’, a little piece of me died.
Okay, I’m exaggerating but only just.
As far as I’m concerned, a staycation is a holiday spent in your home. It’s a stay home vacation. A staycation.
I’m pretty sure that’s the original definition of the word and I’m backed up by various sources❡. Even Wikipedia, that bastion of all things etymological, lol, says: “This article is about a vacation where the people return home overnight. For a vacation taken within one's home country, see domestic tourism.” Burn.
But, increasingly, staycation is being used as a word to mean holidaying in your home country, and that just blows – my – mind.
This only really works for tiny countries such as the UK. Can you imagine being a resident of, say, Corpus Christi, Texas and calling your two-week trip to Tacoma, Washington a staycation?! It’s a distance of more than 2,000 miles. You’re not “staying” anywhere near your home.
Hmm. I’ve just talked myself into understanding why ‘staycation’ can be used in a country the size of the UK, which, compared with the USA, is so small that anywhere you go you are quite close to home. Lol.
But the thing about the UK is that, though it be small, it be mighty. It is rich and diverse in landscapes, environments, cultures, habits, accents, customs, and legends.
The week I spent on the windswept yet beautiful Shetland was nothing like the week I spent surfing* cerulean waves in Cornwall. And that was nothing like the weekend I recently spent in blowsy, buzzing Liverpool. Which is nothing like my matronly and somewhat staid hometown. You get the picture.
That’s my first problem – the claim that staying in the UK, no matter where you might be, is anything like staying at home.
My second objection to using the word so broadly is one involving privilege.
I was six when my mum and dad took me on our first family holiday. We stayed for a week in a farmhouse in Rutland, where I rode a horse for the first time, and saw a grass snake.
That was a holiday. My mum and dad didn’t have much cash and it was such a luxury to go away. Away being the operative word.
My second holiday was between seven and 10, when we stayed in a self-catering cottage, possibly in the Cotswolds. (My memory is so hazy I don’t even remember where it was!) There was a stable door to the cottage and a horseshoe on the wall inside. We were away on holiday.
My third family holiday was at the age of 10, when we stayed for a week in – oh joy of joys! – a hotel in Norfolk. We went boating on the canals, swam in the indoor pool and the other children teased my dad about his Scottish accent. We were, you’ve guessed it, away on holiday.
It wasn’t until I was 12 that I flew (alone! To visit an old schoolfriend) to Ireland, though that was Northern Ireland so still doesn’t count as being abroad☥.
And I was about 14 when my family and I finally made it to the extremely exotic town of Concarneau, in Brittany, France.
When I was in my 20s and living and working in London, I took a week off work and didn’t go anywhere. Or rather, I stayed at home but went visiting a couple of museums every day for a week. It was culturally enriching and hugely enjoyable. That was a staycation.
If you can leave your home and stay on a campsite, in a self-catering cottage or a hotel, avoiding chores, taking time off work, you are lucky to be able to afford to. You are on holiday. Some people don’t get to do that, and when they see folk talking about a ‘staycation’ they had the other end of the country, it can be a bit galling.
Basically, if you leave home, for however long, be it a weekend or a fortnight, you are on holiday. And this is the hill I will die on. 😁
❡ https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/staycation [Although stating a staycation can be taken “near your home” is rather open to interpretation]; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staycation; https://tourismteacher.com/staycation/#0-what-is-a-staycation
* Okay, body boarding. I’m not that cool.
☥ Though I stand to be corrected on this.
This is the bit where I write about wordy and linguistic things that take my fancy...