Gone to Neasden? RIP Denis Norden

In a vain attempt to attract the attention of my apparently non-existent readers, here’s a post on Denis Norden who has just popped his comedy clogs aged 96:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/denis-norden-comedy-writer-became-153154076.html

Frankly I was surprised he was still alive as no doubt was he, since he’d been going since the war.  If I’m honest I remember him as a bit of an old fart, someone with a rather ponderous and long-winded comedy style.  Here he is being brilliantly lampooned by Rory Bremner (it’s about 14 minutes in):

He was one half of a writing duo with Frank Muir, whose humour tended towards the debonair and erudite, as witnessed in ‘Call My Bluff’:

He and Muir were among the foremost comedy writers of their day; penning such great series as ‘Take it From Here’ and the slightly disturbing sado-masochistic ‘Whacko’ starring Jimmy Edwards, who had a moustache you could steer mountain bikes with:

But what I remember most is ‘It’ll Be Alright on the Night’ which showed amusing outtakes in an era with no youtube.  Check this out (skip the first five minutes):

RIP Denis.  Sorry I didn’t appreciate you.

Kirk out

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Where IS Everyone?

Having posted those handy hints last week and got a very gratifying spike in views, this week I find that nobody’s here.  What happened?  Have you all gone on holiday by mistake?  Are you all at party conferences?  If so you’re not at the Labour Conference because that hasn’t happened yet: if you’re at the Lib Dem one, commiserations.  It sounds awful.  But this weekend I’m off to Liverpool to meet Jeremy and friends; and because I’m a delegate my brain is in tying itself into a pretzel trying to figure everything out.  I’ve been to conferences before but none as large as this and I’m trying to understand procedure (not a hope; I don’t do bureaucracy so I’ll just have to whisper to someone sitting next to me) as well as checking out the timetable including main events, fringe events, member-only events, information for delegates, passes, voting cards, conference papers and of course the festival which will be raging outside the whole time like some sort of benevolent storm.  It’s like trying to juggle confetti.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I were just going as a member.  But several months ago it seemed like a good idea to volunteer as a delegate.  ‘I’ll get all my expenses paid,’ I thought.  ‘It’ll be an interesting experience,’ I thought.  But as a delegate I’ll have to try to be On Top of Things.  I’ll have to vote for stuff and try to represent the views of my CLP (local branch) as best I can.  I’ll have to write a sort of report-thingy afterwards.

Oh dear god.

And that’s me today.  Is anybody out there?  It’s awful quiet in here.

Kirk out

Understanding Your Stats

Here’s my tip on understanding your stats – there’s no understanding them.  You can carefully craft a post as per my previous tips, edit and hone, categorise and tag the hell out of it and hit the publish button, only to find the next day that two people and a dog have looked at it.  On the other hand, you can whack a few words in the box, stick a few random tags on and garner a sky-high block in your stats.  There’s just no accounting for it.  This doesn’t mean there’s no point in writing good posts; it just means that the number of views doesn’t always correspond on the day to the quality of writing – and there’s no accounting for why.

I guess I could get an expert in blog stats to come take a look.  They could break it down by region, hour of the day, aspect of the moon, star sign and time of the month and come up with some sort of whizzy and ultimately meaningless algorithm.  But I suspect all that would achieve would be to empty a lot of digits from my bank account whilst leaving me not much wiser as to why.  Why does this happen?  For example, I got a gratifying surge in views last week with my top tips on blogging, then for the last three days they plummeted to a low not seen since the first days of lizardyoga’s weblog, back in 2008.  You could argue that of course I get more views when I’ve actually written something but it don’t always pan out that way; usually there’s at least a day or two where views carry over as people the other side of the world catch up with the day.

That’s the sum total of all I’ve learnt about stats – there’s no accounting for ’em.

Kirk out

Nine Out of Seven Makes Me Mostly Harmless

As the eagle-eyed among you will have spotted, yesterday’s post was rather like Douglas Adam’s ‘Mostly Harmless: the Fifth Volume in the Increasingly Inaccurately-Titled Hitch-Hiker’s Trilogy:

https://www.abebooks.co.uk/HARMLESS-Fifth-Book-Increasingly-Inaccurately-Named/554906278/bd

Why?  Because I said it had seven tips when in fact it had nine.  Once I’d published it I kept thinking of more things to put in and having edited it about nine times I couldn’t be bothered changing the title and decided anyway it was more fun to have a title at odds with the content, thus violating one of my own top tips.  It’s always more fun to break your own rules… but who knew I could say so much about blogging?  I always tend to undervalue my own knowledge and expertise because it doesn’t seem very Thingish: by which I mean it’s Not Very Technical or Definite; it doesn’t have Rules or Widgets or Boxes to Tick.  And we live in a society that values Boxes and things which are Thingish.  But once I started writing I found I actually had a great deal of knowledge and expertise to pass on and others seemed to find it useful too, which is Highly Gratifying – and in accordance with Tip No. 1 – Be Yourself.

Of course that easy-sounding phrase is anything but: in order to be yourself you must first find out what that is; and it may be that people you love or want to impress don’t actually like it very much.  There’s always risk involved in doing anything public: many people have commented to me over the years that they wish they could write a blog but they’re afraid of what people will say.  I, too, know that fear: I used to look at the comments with dread in case someone was being rude or abusive – and sometimes they were.  But you learn how to deal with this stuff (oh no, I feel some more tips coming on) just as we all do on social media.  Nope, there’s no avoiding them – here come some more tips:

Tip 1:  Criticism Hurts

Yes.  It hurts.  I don’t believe there is a writer alive (or dead) who has not experienced the pain of adverse criticism.  Some deal with it by getting angry, others by hiding away until the hurt has passed, a few by taking revenge.  I don’t have a short-cut to pain-free criticism I’m afraid, except to say that it does get better.  Try not to react immediately: give yourself some space; talk to family and friends, eat some chocolate.  Remind yourself of how many great writers were criticised and rejected in their time and the pain will pass.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/91169/16-famous-authors-and-their-rejections

Tip 2:  Get Some Distance

A series of devastatingly cutting responses will go through your mind, each cleverer than the last.  Resist.  Everyone can detect the taste of sour grapes, no matter how eloquently expressed, and you diminish your own power by indulging in them.  First, try to get some distance; then try to judge the comment on its merits.  Does the writer have a point?  Is there anything (however unpalatable) you can learn from this?  Are they – though it might kill you to say so – right?

Tip 3:  Right or Wrong, Make it Work for You

Whether the comment has a point or is total garbage, make it work for you.  Live well is the best revenge, so says the proverb; so if they have a point, take it and improve your work.  If they don’t have a point, let their sheer wrongness spur you on to better things.  Activate your inner stroppiness: don’t let anyone push you off course.

Tip 4:  Don’t Give Up

The only consistent piece of advice I’ve received in all my years of writing is, ‘Don’t give up.’  Keep going; persist; keep writing.  However regular your practice, stick with it and don’t let anyone stop you.  If someone says you’ll never make it, take that word ‘never’ as a red rag to a bull and think what the hell do they know?  Don’t engage in argument: it’s a waste of energy.  Just get back to your desk and carry on.

Tip 5:  What If I’m Not a Writer?

No-one can tell you what you are; that’s true, but it’s even truer that no-one can tell you what you are not.  Only you can discover that – and if in the course of writing, you discover that this is not really who you are, so what?  I’ve tried a hundred things and discovered they’re not who I am; and in the process you’ve found something out about yourself and that’s valuable.  Finding out who you aren’t is a step on the road to finding out who you are.  Which leads me to my final tip…

Tip 6:  Be Yourself.

I think we touched on this one already…

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

 

My Seven Tips for Better Blogging

One of my recent followers is The Art of Blogging:

https://artofblogging.net

where you can find tips on how to make your blog better; all of which set me thinking, what are my tips on blogging?  Do I even have any?  Is the way I blog personal to me and not relevant to anyone else?  Well, let’s find out.

I began blogging because as a writer I wanted readers – and blogging is an instant way to get them.  In theory.  In theory, you just hit ‘publish’ and your words are out there in the world for all to read.  But blogging is like a miniature version of self-publishing; the publishing’s the easy part: in order to get readers you have to do the marketing.  Which presents me with a problem: I’ve always eschewed self-publishing because frankly the thought of doing all that self-promotion makes me feel a bit faint and then I have to go and have a lie-down.  Nowadays we’re all supposed to be self-promoting, self-starting, self-aggrandising little market forces, and that’s just not me.  And what’s the point of writing if you have to be someone else in order to succeed?  So I guess my first tip is this:

Tip No. 1 – Be Yourself. 

If you don’t know what that is, you’ll find out in the process of doing this stuff, but don’t assume you have to be like others in order to succeed.  You are unique and you have unique and individual things to say.  So whilst you can learn from others, don’t try to be them.  Be you.

Tip No. 2 – Communicate. 

It sounds obvious, but make sure others can understand what you’re saying.  If you’re blogging on a specialist topic don’t use words a lay person wouldn’t know: people have very limited tolerance for looking up words.  As I’m continually telling OH whose main blog can be found at:

https://zerothly.wordpress.com

try to look at it from the reader’s point of view.  Are you being too technical?  Too abstruse?  Too long-winded?  This brings us on to:

Tip No. 3 – Don’t Go On And On.

OH maintains that a post of 2000 words is ‘not too long’: I disagree and aim for around 500.  There’s no set limit but I tend to think that more than 1500 words puts a strain on the reader’s time and attention span.  Remember, you’re competing with 1001 other things on the internet, all demanding time and attention.  Which brings me to:

Tip No. 4 – Make It Worth Their While.

Just because you’re interested in something, doesn’t mean your readers will be.  If you’re describing an experience, make them feel it; if you’re giving instructions make them clear and doable, so they’ve really learnt something.  Nothing is more frustrating than a ‘how-to’ blog which skips important sections or assumes knowledge you don’t have: nothing is more dull than a description of someone else’s holiday which doesn’t take you there.

Tip No. 5  How Often?

When I started blogging I made it a rule to blog every day.  My posts were a lot shorter then; but the every day rule was a daily discipline for me, so that I’d get into the habit.  Nowadays I’m more relaxed and several days can go by without a post.  There’s no hard and fast rule but I think that too much content can weary the reader: you don’t want your followers to be getting too many emails.  On the other hand, if I’ve been absent for more than a week, I tend to find my readers drifting away, so I post something to let them know I’m still here.  There’s no point in posting just for the sake of it, but you don’t want people to forget you – so find a balance which works for you.

Tip No. 6 – Don’t Be Ordinary.

Avoid cliches and everyday phrases; without being contrived, try to think of different ways to describe things.  Depending on the topic, use humour; and if you’re writing about something serious like death or depression or suicide, be helpful.  Don’t leave your reader on a total downer – nobody likes that.

Tip No. 7 – Edit.  Then Edit.  Then Edit.

Don’t just write, finish and hit ‘publish’.  Your readers deserve better; hit the ‘preview’ button and check it through.  Then click on ‘edit’ (I usually bring this up in a new tab so I can check back and forth) and look for errors: it’s amazing how many typos slip past even in a few hundred words.  Then look at how you’ve expressed yourself.  Is it clear?  Does it flow?  Could you substitute a colon or semi-colon for that full-stop?  Are your sentences too long, too short, just right?  Could the vocab be sharpened up?  Does the title hook you in?  What about the first sentence?  Think of it like a newspaper article – you need an attention-grabbing headline and then a really good first paragraph (though as with tags, make it relevant to the article).  None of this means the rest of it doesn’t matter, but hooking people in is half the battle.

Tip No. 8 – Categories, Tags and Sharing

These are the kinds of things you usually get tips on and I’m not an expert on these so I’ll just say this: categories are a means for you and others to understand the areas the blog covers and search it accordingly so think about how to divide up your content in the best way.  As for tags, don’t misrepresent the post.  If there’s nothing about Johnny Depp, don’t put him in a tag just to get more readers: if people want Johnny Depp they can go to other blogs.  Make your tags short, punchy and above all relevant.  For example, when I’ve finished this post I’ll probably put tags like ‘top tips for blogging’ or ‘how to perfect your blog’.  Tags are picked up by search engines and are a really good way of getting accidental readers, so make them count.  As for sharing, social media is a great way to reach more people; I connected my blog to Facebook years ago and got a sharp spike in views.  I’m not on Twitter but if you are, use it: I recommend connecting to any social media platforms you’re on.  You may find readers comment on those sites rather than on the blog itself, which some find annoying; but I tend to think all comments are worthwhile and a basis for engagement.  Which brings us to:

Tip No. 9 – Respond!

When readers take the time and trouble to comment, respond.  If you’re in the fortunate position of having too many comments to reply to, make some general response.  Always thank people for commenting: not every time as that becomes a bit wearisome, but make sure commenters feel listened to and appreciated.  One of the most enjoyable aspects for me is engaging in conversation with readers.

So, turns out I do have some tips for blogging – so please comment below and let me know what you think.  If you like the blog, please click the ‘follow’ button on the bottom right, so you’ll get an email whenever I post.  I cherish my followers – and I will ALWAYS look at your blog when you follow me.

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

Nominative Determinism, Psycho-Geography (Again) and a Poet Discovered

I have discovered a poet.  She was a Victorian, her name was Joanna Baillie and I had never heard of her; obviously a great omission as her work has a toughness generally absent from female poets of her time, with the exception of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  I shall say more when I know her better.

But Joanna Baillie was clearly not an example of nominative determinism: I don’t know where the name Baillie originates from (it may be a cognate of bailiff or something similar, perhaps I’ll look it up*) but Joanna Bard might be more appropriate, especially since as a playwright she was compared in her time to Shakespeare.  Nominative determinism crops up far more than you’d think:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominative_determinism

How often have you come across someone whose name quite inexplicably describes their job?  Like, say, Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the flushing toilet; or, to give a more recent example, Usain Bolt, until recently the fastest runner in the world?  How does this happen?

Historically it’s easy to see how, given that surnames were likely to indicate a person’s occupation; so, for example, you may be genetically predisposed to become a baker, a butcher or a chandler because, if that’s your name it means that somewhere in history, that’s what your family did.  (I’m not sure what to make of mine, incidentally, since we don’t seem to have a predisposition to go grey early in my family.)  Another explanation is that we may be drawn to occupations which reflect our name through a sort of unconscious egoism, as suggested here:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2018/may/02/nominative-determinism-who-has-the-best-name-in-running

What examples of nominative determinism have you found?  I’m sure there are some corkers out there.

And back to psycho-geography which, as I’m sure you recall, is the way in which the landscape can reflect an inner state.  This is evident in works such as Wuthering Heights (incidentally how many people have the name Bronte?) and much of Dickens’ urban landscapes reflect the turmoil and oppression of his characters’ lives.  It is also in Joyce’s Dublin, Rankin’s Edinburgh and, if you want to see it that way, Dante’s Inferno.  Which brings us neatly back to spirals and to the novel I have once more picked up, determined to finish it by the end of November.  Of course by ‘finish’ I mean ‘complete a first draft’ – which will of course be rough, incomplete and awful.  But as I was decorating it occurred to me that writing is like painting a wall.  First you clean and prepare; then you put the first coat on.  You stand back.  God, that’s awful, you think.  What a mess.  And it’s true – the old paint shows through, the edges are rough and you can’t believe it’ll ever look like it did in your mind.  But you persevere because you realise that this is just the first coat – and once the edges are neatened with a fine brush and more coats have been applied and everything cleaned up, it’ll look much better.  Of course writing is not that simple: would that it were! (that phrase always reminds me of Robert Robinson.  Not a case of nominative determinism).  With writing you have to apply several coats and very often change colour half way through and start again, not to mention sanding down in between.  It’s a hell of a thing.  Incidentally I can’t think of any writers with nominative determinism – can you?

Kirk out

*It’s Scottish and means a kind of steward or sheriff, so I guess it’s not dissimilar

 

Aaaaaaaaand it’s Back to the Novel-Face

I’ve been taking some time out – a very valuable and useful thing to do – to walk and to decorate; but there comes a point in the life of every writer when she must go back to the laptop and face The Novel once more.  It’s no good waiting for Inspiration to Strike – you must seize it by the throat or at least go to your desk and try to write something.  So here I am.  I’ve read through a couple of the early chapters and made a few changes, and they don’t seem so bad; so the plan is to forge ahead (interestingly I typed ‘forget ahead’ which may also be good advice) and finish the damned thing by doing NaNoWriMo in November.

NaNoWriMo, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is National Novel Writing Month.  All sorts of people do NaNo as it’s a great opportunity to get your arse in gear and write (or finish writing) that novel you always meant to get around to creating.  In my case I shall not be starting from scratch but I will be writing 50,000 words in a month (which is only about 1700 a day, roughly 5 pages) which may or may not take me near the end of the damned thing.

I can’t decide whether to stick to the Fibonacci sequence of chapters (see here for an explanation of the idea:)

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2018/03/03/nice-shell-suit-was-it-designed-by-fibonacci/

or to abandon it.  On the one hand it’s totally impractical as the chapters get exponentially longer.  On the other hand I can’t seem to get it out of my bloodstream, so we’ll just have to see where it leads us.

And that’s today.

Kirk out