George Orwell on Writing

George Orwell is one of those authors that everyone knows about…and whose works I have actually yet to read. I was listening to a writing lecture by Stephen King, and he was really enthusiastic about Orwell’s instruction on writing, so I decided to poke around a bit and see what quotes I could find online. Here’s what I came up with!

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive voice where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

An illusion can become a half-truth, a mask can alter the expression of a face.

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

To write or even speak English is not a science but an art. There are no reliable words. Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up.

Good prose should be transparent, like a window pane.

I think a lot of Orwell’s advice is really helpful! I do also think he’s a bit too negative and cynical for my liking, but I’ll withhold my judgment until I’ve actually read one of his books.

Have you read any Orwell novels? Do you find his writing advice useful?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Interesting Facts About Writers

Recently, I’ve been reading a few autobiographical books of authors, and it struck me that writers can be quite strange and acutely interesting people. Here’s a little collection of facts about famous writers that I found fascinating.

  • Margaret Atwood once had a boyfriend who sent her a real, blood-sodden cow’s heart pierced by an arrow  for Valentine’s Day. What a romantic.
  • Michael Morpurgo’s grandfather was a poet, some of whose works were set to music by Edward Elgar himself!
  • If you reading this have published a piece of writing and are disappointed with the ten copies you’ve sold, take heart – you’re doing better than the Brontes’ first did, my friend! In 1846, the Bronte sisters collaborated and published a book of poetry…it sold two copies.

Virginia Woolf beard hoax

 

  • The above photograph details what is known as the ‘Dreadnought hoax‘. Basically, a group of Bloomsbury writers and artists including, Virginia Woolf, dressed up and donned fake beards to trick the crew of the HMS Dreadnought into thinking they were Abyssinian princes. They were given a forty minute tour of the ship.
  • As a schoolboy, Roald Dahl worked as a taste-tester for Cadbury’s chocolate.
  • Victor Hugo’s cure for writer’s block was…nudity. He’d get his servants to remove his clothes, and instruct them not to return them until he’d met his deadline.
  • John Steinbeck’s first manuscript for Of Mice and Men was eaten by his puppy. He later wrote telling his editor: “I was pretty mad, but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically.”
  • Charles Dickens always carried a compass with him: he liked to sleep facing the north. He thought it would improve his writing.

I hope you enjoyed this little collection of trivia – let me know your favourite literary facts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

The Vikings

Last month I read my first book about Vikings (it was How to Train your Dragon, and what?) and it struck me how little mainstream literature we have about these weird and wonderful people. I’ve collected a few of my favourite Viking facts, in the hope that you’ll all be inspired and start writing stories about Dark Age sea-farers. Go!

  • Vikings skied. Apparently it was a handy way to get around, and they even had a god of skiing, called Ullr. (Source)
  • Vikings kept BEARS for PETS. Please look up Erik Liefson for more of that pretty fantastic story. (Source)
  • They all wore eye-liner. Using kohl protected their eyes, and also made them look pretty fine. (Source)
  • Blonde hair was considered more beautiful, so brunette men would often bleach their lovely locks. Some people think it helped keep lice away too, so that’s always a plus. (Source)
  • To sort out arguments, Vikings would have ‘Ordeals’ to test their bravery. This could involve picking stones out of hot water, or carrying hot iron. (Source)

Bifrost

Bonus thing: This is a Wagnerian painting of Bifrost – which was, in Norse mythology, the rainbow bridge that linked Asgard and Midgard (the world of the gods and the world of humans respectively). So no, Mario was not the first to walk a rainbow road.

Are there any other interesting Viking facts you think should have made the list? Also can you recommend a Viking-ish novel?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

China

China flag

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but as part of my degree, I’m learning Mandarin! It’s definitely very challenging (and very interesting). I thought that it would only be appropriate to write a post featuring some of the most surprising (at least, they surprised me) facts about China. I think it’s such a culturally rich country, and there’s a lot to learn about it.

  • Reincarnation is forbidden in China without government permission. (Source)
  • In China, you can major in Bra Studies. (Source)
  • Over 35 million Chinese people still live in caves.(Source)

China caves

  • Tens of thousands of female babies are abandoned, and around a million are aborted every year in China. The ‘one child only’ policy means it’s preferable to have a male child. (Source) This means that by 2020, China could have between 30 and 40 million men who can’t find wives. (Source)
  • The word ‘censorship’ is censored in China. (Source)
  • More people go to church on Sunday in China than  in the whole of Europe. (Source)
  • China’s richest twenty people have a combined net worth of 145.1 billion dollars. That’s more than Hungary’s GDP. (Source)
  • Ice cream was invented in China in about 2000BC. It was a soft milk and rice mixture, packed in snow. (Source)
  • In the Tang dynasty, all educated people were expected to greet and say goodbye in spontaneously composed poetic verse. (Source)

And lastly:

  • One in five people in the world are Chinese. (Source)

China is such a fascinating country; complex and mind-blowingly huge! If you’ve ever been, I’d love to hear about your experience. Are there any other facts you think should have made the list?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Astrophil and Stella 1

The text I wanted to share today is a sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney, and it’s from a cycle called Astrophil and Stella (Starlover and Star). They’re really about unrequited love, but I thought this one in particular would be really relevant to all you writers out there – can’t we all relate to this desperate search for inspiration? (Also I think it’s a really beautiful poem!)
Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain,—
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,—
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe;
Studying inventions fine her wits to entertain,
Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn’d brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting invention’s stay;
Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows;
And others’ feet still seem’d but strangers in my way.
Thus great with child to speak and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart, and write.”
So tell me! Where do you find your inspiration?
Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!
~Dani

Michael Morpurgo on Writing

I love Michael Morpurgo’s stories! One of my most treasured books is ‘Singing for Mrs Pettigrew: A story-maker’s journey’, which is a compilation of a few short stories, interspersed with chapters on how he writes and advice for other story-tellers. I wanted to share a little bit of his wisdom, and I hope it inspires you as much as it does me!

[The] process of story-making and story-telling is for everyone…we all of us have the seedcorn of stories inside us…it is simply a question of planting it and encouraging it to grow.

 

To have read widely and deeply, to have soaked oneself in the words and ideas of other writers, to have seen what is possible and wonderful, to have listened to the music of their words and to have read the work of the masters must be a help for any writer discovering his own technique, her own voice.

 

The story will be written when the moment is right.

 

First immerse yourself in the world about you, become part of it, then you’ll be able to write.

 

Don’t pretend. Tell your tale. Speak with your own voice. We are what we write, I think, even more than we are what we read.

 

For a story to resonate, to captivate the reader, a writer has to make the unbelievable believable.

 

Are there any other Michael Morpurgo fans out there? What do you think of his advice?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

The End Is…Nigh?

I really enjoy reading post-apocalyptic literature, and there’s so much coming out at the moment! I took on this craze as a kind of writing challenge, and I wanted to share it with you too: What is the wackiest apocalypse you can think of? What is the one way the world as we know it could end that no-one ever saw coming?

Here’s mine!

We never knew. After the first break-out, we laughed in their faces.We’re bigger. We’re stronger. They outnumbered us from the start.
We farmed them, before. We called them dumb and shut them away in the cyclic rhythm of our total control. We harvested them, killed them off as we pleased. We thrived. And then they fought back.
We don’t know what made them snap; what shifted in our relationship. Maybe one too many mothers were deprived of their children, or one too many fathers snatched away from their families.
We blessed them with space and called them happy and free as they picked at our crumbs. For years, we smiled down at them as we chose which neck to twist first. We built fences around them and said they were ‘safe’, but what we really meant was ‘ours’.
The first time they killed a man, we called him stupid. It was almost laughable: how could a grown man be over-powered by…them? Then the second and the the third and the fourth deaths filtered into our news, until we became the statistics and they became the threat.
We scattered and they flocked, breeding in the shadows and nesting in the spaces between our strongholds.
It took months. We fought back, of course. We killed hundreds of them. But the role-change was irrevocable. We had lost our place as head of the food chain.
We were forced back to the rivers; to the lakes and seas where they couldn’t reach us.

We still see them, occasionally: lined up on the shoreline, clawing at the ground with taloned feet and fluttering golden feathers. A warning, but also a taunt.
Who, they say through yellow beaks, is chicken now?

Hope you enjoyed it! If you decide to take up the challenge, I’d love to read yours.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

~Dani

Why Write?

I’m reading Negotiating With The Dead by Margaret Atwood, which is in essence ‘a writer on writing’. There’s one particularly long quote that I love, and wanted to share – I’ve cropped it and messed about with the format, but I think the intended message is still there.

Why do you [write]?

To record the world as it is. To set down the past before it is all forgotten. To excavate the past because it has been forgotten…

Because I knew I had to keep writing or else I would die. Because to write is to take risks, and it is only by taking risks that we know we are alive.

To produce order out of chaos. To delight and instruct…To please myself. To express myself. To express myself beautifully…

To hold a mirror up to Nature. To hold a mirror up to the reader. To paint a portrait of society and its ills. To express the unexpressed life of the masses. To name the hitherto unnamed…

Because to create is human. Because to create is Godlike….To say a new word. To make a new thing. To create a national consciousness, or a national conscience…

To spin a fascinating tale. To amuse and please the reader. To amuse and please myself. To pass the time, even though it would have passed anyway…

Because I was driven to it by some force outside of my control…

To experiment with new forms of perception…Because the story took hold of me and wouldn’t let me go…To defend a minority group or oppressed class.

To speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

To expose appalling wrongs or atrocities…To speak for the dead. To celebrate life in all its complexity…To allow for the possibility of hope and redemption.

To give back something of what has been given to me.

Music for Writing: Home

Adventures are great, but sometimes it’s lovely for your character to return home. Here are some of my favourite tracks to listen to when writing a scene like that. Enjoy!

Let me know what sort of music you enjoy listening to while writing, and whether you would suggest any alternative tracks for this theme.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani