Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Analysed to Death...

Despite being an avid reader I chose not to study English Literature at A level. I chose Maths instead and still have nightmares about sitting the exam. The one where I’m sitting alone in the middle of a huge exam hall, empty desks all around me, clock ticking loudly and the exam never ends...can’t just be me, surely?

Anyway...The way English was taught at school seemed to be designed purely to suck the joy from reading. To analyse a novel line by line is soul destroying and surely not what most authors intend.

This is a great article click here in which a 15 year old girl talks about her love of reading but her despair at having to follow the current GCSE English syllabus. She talks about “slamming my head on the table many a time as I thought about the pain of reading Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or Romeo and Juliet“ and I find myself sympathising.

In my last blog post I talked about my aversion to the ‘classics’ and I can’t help feeling that part of this was driven by school’s attitude to teaching English Literature. I studied A Kestrel for a Knave, Romeo and Juliet and To Kill A Mockingbird for GCSE.

I hated A Kestrel for a Knave with a passion. All that, ‘it’s grim up North’, nonsense still makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a pencil. Although, I will admit to having a massive chip on my shoulder about all Yorkshire folk being portrayed as poor gambling alcoholics who swear constantly, beat their kids and either work darn pit, in’t mill or are on t’dole.  I actually took a coach from Leeds to London in the 21st Century and had to sit next to a woman whose son was a doctor and daughter was a concert pianist who told me she felt sorry for children who had to live in the North, because let’s face it, what chances do they have?

Anyway, I’ve gone off on one again...Romeo and Juliet is fine as a play but enough to make any 15 year old cry into their pencil case if forced to analyse it line by line. In fact I’ve seen several Shakespeare plays (Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) either adapted for film or on stage and enjoyed most of them. (Much Ado About Nothing by Joss Whedon is fab, so see that one!) But surely Shakespeare intended for his plays to be viewed and enjoyed, not torn apart line by line?

The only redeeming factor was To Kill A Mockingbird, and only because I ignored instructions to read a chapter a week and read it all in the first week. But spending weeks considering why Boo Radley was considered to be a ‘malevolent phantom’ because it was a likely exam question is tedious in the extreme.

I love reading. I love writing. I’d love to have time to do more. But this love was not fostered by the school curriculum, or a particularly engaging teacher but by me. By a desire to return to something I loved doing and had somehow lost sight of.

If we really want kids to enjoy reading for pleasure, to engage them at school, to make them curious about the world around them and to encourage independent thinking rather than memorising acceptable answers, surely we need to change the way we teach.

Sadly, this doesn’t seem likely in the near future.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

It's a classic...

I finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood at 2am this morning.

I’m not usually up this late. Something to do with having slept during the day due to the Prosecco induced hangover from the night before, but the least said about that the better…

I’m not really a fan of the ‘classics’. A pretty bold and possibly unpopular statement I realise, but I much prefer to read contemporary fiction. I’ve never read the likes of the Bronte sisters and Dickens does nothing for me. There’s just nothing about the British aristocracy desperately trying to get married, or the trials and tribulations of Victorian society that holds much interest for me.

I’ve read other ‘classics’ (1984, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, War of the Worlds et al.) and have generally reviewed them as ‘OK’ - a solid 3 out of 5 stars. In the same way I watch 80’s classic movies and marvel at the so-called ‘special effects’, (The title sequence of The Running Man being a recently watched favourite) I read these ‘classics’ and see them as products of their time. They’re enjoyable but nothing to get excited about - maybe it's just me.

So, how old does a book need to be to be regarded as a classic? Published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is described as a ‘contemporary classic’. It’s one of those that I’ve been aware of for years but been put off by its classification. A book that you study at school, rather than enjoy reading for pleasure.

I picked up a copy of The Blind Assassin (also by Margaret Atwood and a Man Booker Prize winner) at a second hand book sale recently and although I struggled with it for the first few chapters, I found myself slowly immersed in the story. The central character was fascinating if not likeable but Atwood’s writing was addictive and this led me to read The Handmaid’s Tale (purchased by hubby for Xmas - thanks!)

The Handmaid’s Tale is amazing. Powerful and absorbing, it’s the story of a young woman retelling the events that have resulted in her being assigned to a couple for reproductive purposes. It explores themes of ownership and power, the role of women in society and the dangers of curtailing individual freedoms in the name of the greater good.

Whilst not a comfortable read at times it’s one I would definitely recommend. Although written in the early 1980’s the themes explored are still worryingly relevant and Atwood’s writing is in places, scarily prophetic.

So, having read a ‘classic’ (albeit a ‘contemporary classic’) and enjoyed it, is it now time to ditch my fear of the 'classics' and broaden my horizons? To read dystopian fiction alongside historical fiction, to try a mixture of old and new, to read crime alongside chick-lit, mainstream Booker prize winners alongside indie authors?

Maybe I will pick up Jane Eyre one day, and maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I doubt I’ll stretch to 50 Shades though...

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Tweet Tweet...

After having my paragraph published on Paragraph Planet last week (stories are only available for one day so if you missed it I’ll post a link when it becomes available in the archive section in February, http://www.paragraphplanet.com/) I picked up a few followers on Twitter.  There were a number of indie authors and publishers and a few random restaurants and the like touting for business. I dutifully followed those back that seemed relevant to my interests and that’s when the crap started to hit my timeline.

It’s great reading some of the tweets of the authors and wannabe authors - genuine messages about what they’re writing, what they’re promoting, successes they’ve had, stories in a tweet they want to share. After all, writing is a business and Twitter is basically a free marketing tool. But there are some that tweet the most inane, random, sometimes offensive, crap I’ve ever come across.

And that’s when the un-following exercise began.

Bye-bye Mr ‘Obama hating, gun toting, racist nut-job’. Adios Miss ‘I’m going to tweet other people’s motivational quotes at you every ten minutes’. Some of these people clearly schedule their tweets which means they’re not even actively engaging in conversation - they’re just programming a computer to send out this crap and I’m willingly receiving it! Not any more!

Why would anyone follow these people? 

I wasn’t an active user of Twitter until recently and I’ve come to realise that it’s a game for lots of people. A game to see who can amass the most followers and who can achieve the most likes or re-tweets. There’s a snowball effect; as one person follows you a bunch of their friends follow you, a kind of keeping up with the Jones’ of the internet age. Streaming through my timeline has become a slightly arduous task and I'm only following 154 people (at the time of writing - probably be much less after another cull!) 

Don’t even get me started on cat pictures...

Twitter can also be a really nasty place. It seems that every week I hear about perfectly decent human beings closing their accounts after being subjected to some pretty horrific and graphic on-line abuse. Fortunately, not something I've had to deal with first hand.

I guess that’s the reality of Twitter though - you can come and go as you please, follow and unfollow as you please. There are no friendships at risk of failure when you’re dealing with complete strangers and who’s going to notice or even care about losing a follower or two when you have thousands. It's sadly also an opportunity for the most horrendous parts of society to freely attack others with the benefit of complete anonymity.

Not all of my Facebook posts and tweets are exciting and fun packed but I’d like to think that I’m not annoying or offending anyone and anyway, there’s always the unfollow option.

After all, it’s quality not quantity that matters.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Attack of the Grammar Police

When I wrote my last blog post I got hung up on a particular sentence:

These days I need to call out a search party to find the school permission slip which should have been in yesterday”.

I read and re-read it because I couldn’t decide whether the word ‘which’ was correct. (Probably just one for the grammar pedants this!) I decided to have a quick Google and came up with this:

If the sentence doesn’t need the clause that the word in question is connecting, use which. If it does, use that. (Pretty easy to remember, isn’t it?)  (http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/which-vs-that)

Erm...not that easy really - or is it just me? I think I got my head around it eventually and decided that the use of the word ‘which’ is probably correct, but please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!

My grammar is generally OK, (a liberal sprinkling of commas here, an apostrophe or two there,) but the internet grammar police will quickly pounce on anyone who fails to follow the rules - the Oxford comma and use of split infinitives being particular favourites in the ‘how to start an argument with an academic’ category.

I am a stickler for some of the rules though. Woe betide the person who uses the wrong form of their/there/they’re and, as I have previously pointed out on on my Facebook page, if you want to sell the thing that holds your pants, the word is drawers and not draws.

But it got me thinking about the way I was taught at school and the way kids are taught today.  I was at primary school in the 80’s and I don’t recall being taught formal grammar. I struggle with the difference between adjectives and adverbs and get bogged down with prepositions and conjunctions.

I could be misremembering but it’s also possible that the wine and whiskey have killed those particular memory banks. I do remember a High School English teacher having a hissy fit and forcing the class to write 25 sentences because ‘no-one knew how to use a full stop.’

My eldest (who’s 7) comes home from school talking about split digraphs and homophones and I have to do a quick Google to see what he’s talking about! The current education system seems very concerned with teaching kids ‘the rules’ and it makes me wonder where the creativity is. When the 7 year old talks about making a sentence ‘better’ by adding lots of adjectives I want to punch a wall.  Better how? To make it more flowery and verbose or to prove that you’ve swallowed a thesaurus for breakfast?

Rules are important. I understand that. But I’m not sure a 4 year old needs to know what a split-digraph is before he’s mastered wiping his own backside!

So next time I spend half an hour contemplating the use of ‘which’ or ‘that’, the question I guess I should be asking is, ‘Does anybody care?’

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Busy, busy...

When I was a proper grown up with a real job I prided myself on being ultra organised. I was a pretty good administrator. I knew what needed to be done and when it needed to be done. I was the go-to gal for info and advice. Despite my desk being piled high with every piece of paper known to man I knew where everything was.  

Need some stats? Give me an hour!

Want a report? I'm on it!

Well, that was the case for a lot of my career. It kind of tailed off towards the end, but that's another story...

These days I need to call out a search party to find the school permission slip which should have been in yesterday, and my inbox currently has 645 unread emails (most of them from Amazon, Next, Tesco et al.)

It's strange how we* define productivity. How our feelings of self worth are wrapped up in job titles and wage slips. How we berate ourselves for doing nothing all day when we've successfully managed to keep the kids alive.  (And given how much my 3 year old is fond of climbing, jumping and throwing himself backwards onto concrete, that's quite an achievement.)

Instead I spend my days getting the kids to the right places at the right time (time management), planning meals and doing the shopping (budgeting), managing my own and PTA social media accounts (marketing) and resolving brotherly arguments (peacekeeping and mediation). 

I ask hubby to bath the kids while I make the dinner (delegating and negotiation) and if he's not around I do it myself (working on my my own initiative and as part of a team). From time to time I have also been known to provide hubby with constructive feedback!

So regardless of whether you have a 'proper job' or not or whether you have kids or not, you do more than you think.

I'm a project manager, and so are you!

(*For 'we' read 'I'!)

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Yesterday was awesome!

Yesterday, I had my second teeny tiny story published on Paragraph Planet, a creative writing website which publishes a 75 word story every day. If you missed it you'll have to wait until the January archive is up in early February - I'll post a link when it's available.

I thought it was a decent attempt at a story when I submitted. It was one of those that just appears out of nowhere. I wrote it down in about 10 minutes, added a few words, deleted a few more, changed it round a bit.  Done!  I submitted it with a few others (which might make an appearance on the website in the future - fingers crossed) and sat back expecting a long wait, or nothing at all.

Within a few hours I'd received an email saying that they'd like to publish it two days later.  Woo-hoo!  I duly posted the link on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Blogger and gave myself a pat on the back for a job well done.

What I hadn't expected was the feedback on Twitter. 

@Voimaoy called it a 'beautiful piece' that said 'so much in so few words'. 

@bartvangoethem said that 'simplicity is the key'.

And perhaps my favourite tweet ever from @TheJamesWhitman, 'Mint #flashfiction on @paragraphplanet today.  Perfect example of Hemingway's iceberg theory.  Well done @TheTrueMC!'

I've gained 17 followers in the past 24 hours (which when you only had 102 feels like quite an achievement!) and have received lots of comments, likes and RT's from around the world. My inbox kept pinging with new notifications and @Paragraphplanet tweeted that they were also receiving lots of positive comments. 

About me! About something I did! All on my own! With no help!

But it just goes to show that sometimes the most successful ideas are the ones that come out of nowhere. That there isn't necessarily a secret formula for what works and what doesn't. Sometimes it just appears and you simply need to translate it from brain to page.  

And let's face it. If I can do it, anyone can!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Paragraph Planet

Last year I came across a website called Paragraph Planet (http://www.paragraphplanet.com/), a creative writing site which publishes a 75 word paragraph each day.  Paragraphs can be teeny tiny stories, novel extracts, or short musings but best of all, anyone can submit! 

So I did!

My first paragraph was published on 13th August 2015 and my second has been published today.

Today's (I looked for you today) can be accessed on the homepage: http://www.paragraphplanet.com/

13th August paragraph (I'll kill you. Hear me?) can be accessed in the archive and selecting the date from the drop down list: http://www.paragraphplanet.com/aug15archive.php

Let me know what you think. While you're there you can browse over 1600 paragraphs to while away those long hours on the train or why not submit one yourself?! 

If you'd like to share that would be fab. You can find me (@TheTrueMC) and Paragraph Planet (@paragraphplanet) on Twitter.  


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

You can tell it's January...

After publicly declaring that I don't do resolutions I started to secretly make some. 

I will apply some slap to my face when leaving the house and check that my clothes are clean and hole free before wearing them. These clothes will be stored in drawers and cupboards rather than on the floor. My house will be clean and cosy and the pictures lying on the floor will be attached to the walls. 

So far, so normal (and 100% doomed to failure).  

I was then browsing the Facebook selling pages when I discovered that someone was selling a table in need of renovation for £5. As hubby will no doubt testify I cannot resist a bargain, so off I went to buy a table and launch my new hobby/incredibly successful up-cycling business. 

It's a small round side table and it's sitting at the back of the kitchen piled high with the kids' Xmas presents. In my mind I will up-cycle it one rainy Saturday afternoon. I will sand the top and the legs. I will paint it in Annie Sloane chalk paint (whatever that is).  I will lovingly 'distress' the wood and create a beautiful piece of art.

The thing is, I can't paint, or sand, or do anything remotely DIY and I know that's kind of the point but still...The closest I've got is to googling 'how to upcycle a table'.  And it looks a bit tricky and time consuming and expensive so maybe I won't bother.

Alternatively, I'll cut up some comic books and get the kids to stick them on top and call it decopatch art. If the kids make it, it's allowed to look like a 3 year old did it - right?

Monday, 11 January 2016


It’s fair to say that technology has come on a bit since I was a kid.  I still remember typing Load “” on the ZX Spectrum, listening to the tape scream for a few minutes, getting an error message then restarting the process all over again. Those were the days! 

Now, the 3 year old seems to be able to hack into smartphones and the 7 year old would be permanently attached to YouTube videos of other people playing Minecraft (had we not blocked YouTube on his Hudl - mwah ha ha!) 

The point is I’m not as clued up as I used to be. 

When I first decided to write this blog I realised that I had already set one up a few years ago with a name of ‘testing’. Thinking this would be a good place to start I happily started typing away. I soon realised that ‘testing’ is not a great name for a blog and figured I should change it. 

It’s taken me 4 days to work out that you can change the name of your blog in the settings tab...and so it gives me great pleasure to present to you my blog: ‘These Are Words That Go Together Well’. Hopefully you'll agree that this is slightly better than ‘testing’.  


Saturday, 9 January 2016

All about me

So, now you’ve decided to listen to me generally ramble on about stuff, here’s a few things you possibly/probably don’t know about me:

  • I wrote a string quartet at school which was performed as I signed the register at my wedding.
  • I was in a TV production of ‘The Magic Lion’ - a story about Leeds Town Hall - when I was at primary school.
  • I travelled from Germany to France on my own when I was 16.  I almost got lost in Paris but jumped on the train just as it was pulling out of the station!
  • I started my first job when I was 12 collecting and washing glasses at my local rugby club.
  • My mum suggested calling me Valentina (I’m going to assume she was high on gas and air!)  Instead she decided on a name that couldn’t be shortened - erm OK!

So, how about you?  Got any interesting facts to share?

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Shut up brain!

“So people would like to read your blog then. Interesting. If only they knew you had nothing to talk about. If only they could find the links to the millions of other blogs out there. Blogs written by interesting people with interesting lives. People who can string a sentence together without googling the definition or spelling of words. People who….”

Shut up brain! OK I’m doing this! It might work. It might not. Who cares?  Woohoo!!

I can’t promise to be interesting or exciting but I shall try to be me and that’s the best I can do. So, what shall I write about? What shall I call it? How often should I write? Questions, questions. (They're not rhetorical by the way - see that exciting box down there? That's the bit where you write. You didn't think I was doing this on my own, did you?!) Watch this space.  :)

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

To blog or not to blog?

To blog or not to to blog?  That is the question.  T’is the time of year when we contemplate our future.  To think of the year ahead and consider what we should be doing with it.  I don’t really make resolutions (Possibly because I’m massively afraid of failure but that’s a completely different topic…) but find myself wondering whether I should be.  Should I declare my goals on Facebook or join in the #Resolutionsfor2016 hash tag on Twitter. Should I choose abstinence or intensification?  Or should I just try to use more 15 letter words?  January arrives with a seemingly moral requirement to eat and drink less, exercise more and generally be a better person but anyone who has a 3 year old and doesn’t need a stiff drink and a bar of Dairy Milk at the end of the day is clearly not human. Although, I might be tempted to take up running just to put some distance between myself and the next explosive and incredibly public temper tantrum.

2016 brings with it the promise of more time as the 3 year old starts nursery next week *happy dance*.  So, what should one do with all these extra hours in the week?  Well, I’ll have approximately 10 hours a week in which I need to do the shopping, clean the house, wash the clothes...To blog or not to blog? We’ll see.