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Posts from the ‘WRITING: CRAFT’ Category

Can I Quote That? Ask Your Lawyer

At least, that’s the short version of the answer.

The slightly longer version of the answer would be: how long has the original author or speaker been dead?

This has come up a few times when I wanted to quote more than just the title of a song or poem. The rough rule of thumb for fair use in a commercial setting (your book) that I was given has been five words. If you quote more than five recognizable words, then you are getting into copyright law’s turf. The rule comes from academia, specifically what constitutes plagiarism, and a real copyright law site suggests that you can go a touch farther. In one case, I knew I didn’t have a prayer of using the lyric, because it was (and as far as I know, still is) tied up in a nasty copyright fight between a performer and the writer of the song, and the distributor.  That’s the sort of fight no author wants to wade into, so I made up some lyrics that fit the mood of the song and went from there.

Making up something is always safe. Doing your own translations is also safe. Read more

Old-school journalism, old-school writers

I was interested to read an article titled “The Golden Age of Fleet Street“.  The author reminisces about his career in journalism, and how, in the old days, reporters had to “climb the career ladder” from local, to provincial, to national newspapers, and “earn their stripes” the hard way.  He points out that the current model is radically different.

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Rebuilding the bits of our home that failed to survive their transition from the old site to our farm has been chewing a lot of my time and energy – a lot of work above my head, which starts to make you aware (with a fraction of the suffering) of how painful crucifixion must have been.

I’m busy with ceilings at the moment. For reasons that are probably best not elaborated too much about (without writing Dave’s book of disasters) I’m not dealing with square rooms.  The rhombus is a fine shape, I sure, but less than fun to fit 13 mm square ply boards to. And to add joy some of the timbers are old and a little warped, if still sound.

Like many writers I can be utterly obsessive, terribly precise, and obstinate way beyond just being a fault. The latter never leaves, although the precision and obsession with trivial details I’ve managed to ease off on a little with the writing process.

A little.

Well. Sometimes.

Add that lot together and it makes ceilings slow and complicated. Anyway, Ambulance service call-out last night just before midnight (I wasn’t actually on call, but we all get the pager-message, and I always check. A couple of times I’ve been the closest trained first responder. This was one of those, and as Comms couldn’t actually make contact with the two who were on call, I was one of the two officers dealt with it.)

It proved pretty minor, but it’s a couple of hours cut out of your core sleep, and I struggle to get back to sleep after. So: I faced the ceiling work this morning with a lot of yawns and a rather cloudy brain and stuff that requires reversing a lot of the measurements you can take. There are six large boards in the ceiling – how many ways can you get that wrong? (A surprisingly large number…)

Needless to say I made a horse’s butt out of it. If the horse’s butt’s I’ve made over the years were attached to horses, I could sell entire herds, so I am good at this, and used to it.

Now there are two ways most of us can deal with this situation.  1) You can try to fix without undoing all the work you’ve done. 2) Put up with a rotten job that you can maybe plaster or hope no-one notices. No, the picture is not my house…

Number 2 won’t work for me, because _I_ will notice.

So I spent about 4 hours on option 1.

This is not my first rodeo, I know a lot about fixing messes.

But after four hours I looked up and decided that _I_ would notice.

So… I went for option three (which no-one ever wants to mention. Or, in most cases, consider. Not with ceilings, and certainly not with books they’re writing. )

And no, that is not just walk off in disgust.

It’s ‘take it all down and start again’. Like poor old Michael Finnegan, (‘he grew whiskers on his chinnegin, the wind came up and blew them innegin, poor old Michael Finnegan, Beginnegin’) – as the children’s rhyme I grew up with taught me, it was a case of ‘you’ve been working all day, and all you’ve done is learn how the job should not be done. Take it down and start again.’

The curious thing about this is that it had taken me eight and a bit hours to reach that point. Two and half hours later – when I ran out of light, I was very nearly at the same point I’d reached before pulling it down.

Only this time… the gaps were not gaping maws but needing a rubber mallet to try to make it fit.  I probably still will be less than pleased with it all, but it’s a better job under worse circumstances than the professional builder did in the place we’re staying in.

And herein lies today’s writing message: sometimes it is not worth ‘fixing’ a piece of text, even a whole story.  Sometimes hard though it may be, you’re better off to take a fresh go at it. And because you now know what you need to do, instead of just hacking away, it comes together a lot easier, better, and tighter than any fix could make it.

It’s still a hard thing to do. But I found myself there with quite a few books and stories in the past.  It’s just not working for you, it doesn’t want to be fixed… well you have probably done something intrinsic wrong (as I had with the ceiling) at structural levels. Writing it again may well work. It has for me, no matter how reluctant I’ve been to do it again.

Image by mentrea from Pixabay


Ford vs Ferrari: On the Money!

If you haven’t seen Ford vs Ferrari yet, you need to correct yourself. Yes, it’s a car movie. No, you don’t need to know a great deal about cars. Hell, go in knowing nothing. Because in the end, this movie isn’t about cars. It’s about men. Being men. Doing manly things. Without being negative! You heard that: Hollywood has delivered a wholesome movie about men! In the prescient words of Tychus Findlay: “Hell, it’s about time!”

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I am sure Alice found Wonderland down one of these. I sometimes find rabbit droppings, or, more occasionally, rabbits.  Fortunately, not here on Flinders Island, as we don’t have rabbits… but I daresay if went down enough holes here you might encounter a wombat’s bottom… (they have a very tough thick skin pad on their derrieres  – which they use block their holes to unwelcome visitors, like dingoes, or possibly Alice.) They also produce very odd rectangular droppings, so while you’re down there you could investigate the shaping of these. It must require an odd orifice!

Maybe the wombat’s world domination plan was to convert vegetation into small building bricks? Read more

Describe this

Can you describe the scene? Look at it for 5 seconds,  look away, try and ‘redraw’ it in words…  (it’s actually not a fantasy cover, but a modern hamlet in the mountains. You can see powerlines, but not at a glance) Yeah. well the same applies to characters or people…

“Can you describe the villain who perpetrated this hit-and-run for us, Ms. Smith?”

“He was tall, blond, and was wearing a MAGA hat.”

The one thing you can be sure of is… if they catch the villain, she will be none of the above. She won’t be tall, as in above average height, she will probably have indeterminate color hair, and most likely won’t even own a hat of any description. Might have been wearing a pinkish-red bandanna.

Was Ms. Smith doing a Jussie?  Was Ms. Smith trying to protect the guilty party?

Quite possibly not. Read more

Help! Theirs a Typoo in My Book!

It never fails. You go through your manuscript. You catch the big problems (the six-foot tall bad guy becomes five-foot-one three chapters later), fix the continuity problem (She got married two books ago. What’s a fiancé doing here?), have eagle-eyed copy-editors track down the lingering hints of older sentences and verbs that had switched tenses mid-paragraph.

Your formatted text is perfect. You upload the book. All is well. You download the book. You open to the first chapter. . .

Arrrrrgh! Read more