The Chaos of the English language

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English spelling is undeniably chaotic. There’s an exception to almost every rule, 26 letters have to do the job of around 44 phonemes, and ‘English’ is less its own language than a strange combination and mixtures of myriad other languages both ancient and modern. The linguistic fingerprints of thousands of people can be found everywhere in our orthography. So no wonder people often think of it as being, well, weird (or should that be wyrd?)

It is little wonder, then, so many people struggle with the pronunciation of English words. The language has so many irregularities that sometimes even native speakers are not sure how to say a word. In homage to the idiosyncrasies of English spelling and pronunciation, the Dutch writer Gerard Nolst Trenité penned The Chaos – a virtuoso feat of composition, a mammoth catalogue of about 800 of the most notorious irregularities of traditional English orthanography.

Written under Trenité’s pseudonym, Charivarius, The Chaos skilfully arranges the inconsistencies of English into couplets with alternating feminine and masculine rhymes. First published in the early 1920s, the poem does include certain words that may appear dated to a modern audience (here at Nothing in the Rulebook, Billy the Echidna and Professor Wu were flummoxed by the term ‘studding-sail’ – a nautical term pronounced ‘stunsail’); yet the overwhelming majority of the poem represents a true likeness of the chaos that is the English language.

We’ve re-printed the poem for your enjoyment here below.

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpsecorpshorse and worse.

I will keep you, Susybusy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seerhear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare hearthear and heard,
Dies and dietlord and word.

Sword and swardretain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Saysaidpaypaidlaid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Wovenovenhow and low,
Scriptreceiptshoepoemtoe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughterlaughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measlestopsailsaisles,
Missilessimilesreviles.

Whollyhollysignalsigning,
Sameexamining, but mining,
Scholarvicar, and cigar,
Solarmicawar and far.

From “desire”: desirableadmirable from “admire”,
Lumberplumberbier, but brier,
Topshambroughamrenown, but known,
Knowledgedonelonegonenonetone,

OneanemoneBalmoral,
Kitchenlichenlaundrylaurel.
GertrudeGermanwind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queuemankind,

Tortoiseturquoisechamois-leather,
Reading, Readingheathenheather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives mossgrossbrookbroochninthplinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquetwalletmalletchalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discountviscountload and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crochetingcroquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
Roundedwoundedgrieve and sieve,
Friend and fiendalive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyantminute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjureSheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Libertylibraryheave and heaven,
Rachellochmoustacheeleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
Peopleleopardtowed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between moverploverDover.
Leechesbreecheswiseprecise,
Chalice, but police and lice,

Camelconstableunstable,
Principledisciplelabel.
Petalpenal, and canal,
Waitsurmiseplaitpromisepal,

SuitsuiteruinCircuitconduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
But it is not hard to tell
Why it’s pallmall, but Pall Mall.

Musclemusculargaoliron,
Timberclimberbullionlion,
Worm and stormchaisechaoschair,
Senatorspectatormayor,

Ivyprivyfamousclamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
Pussyhussy and possess,
Desert, but desertaddress.

Golfwolfcountenancelieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tombbombcomb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker“,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor“,
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Fontfrontwontwantgrand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
MindMeandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severanceRibald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.

Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffetbuffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolleyrealm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you’re not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
Episodes, antipodes,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.

The th will surely trouble you
More than rch or w.
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em
Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Realzealmauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriagefoliagemirageage,

Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
Dostlostpost, and dothclothloth,
JobJobblossombosomoath.

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowingbowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisnetruismuse, to use?

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
SeatsweatchastecasteLeigheightheight,
Putnutgranite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyrheifer.
DullbullGeoffreyGeorgeatelate,
Hintpintsenate, but sedate.

GaelicArabicpacific,
Scienceconsciencescientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succourfour,
Gasalas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Seaideaguineaarea,
PsalmMaria, but malaria.
Youthsouthsoutherncleanse and clean,
Doctrineturpentinemarine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Rally with allyyeaye,
EyeIayayewheykeyquay!

Say aver, but everfever,
Neitherleisureskeinreceiver.
Never guess-it is not safe,
We say calvesvalveshalf, but Ralf.

Starry, granarycanary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegmphlegmaticassglassbass.

Basslargetargetgingiveverging,
Oughtoust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.

Mind the o of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, puttingPutting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,
HyphenroughennephewStephen,
Monkeydonkeyclerk and jerk,
Aspgraspwaspdemesnecorkwork.

A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won’t it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying “grits”?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlockgunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewifeverdict and indict.

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying latherbatherfather?
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Thoughthroughboughcoughhoughsough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

It is said that at least 90% of native English speakers are unable to pronounce every word of The Chaos correctly. How did you do? Let us know in the comments below!

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Ted Hughes on the ideal place for writing

 

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James Joyce wrote lying on his stomach in bed, with a large blue pencil, clad in a white coat – and composed Finnegans Wake with crayon pieces on cardboard. Conrad Aiken worked at a refectory table in the dining room; Robert Graves wrote in a room furnished only with objects made by hand. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up; D. H. Lawrence under a tree. Nathalie Sarraute chose to write in a neighborhood café, at the same time, and same table, every morning. “It is a neutral place,” she said, “and no one disturbs me – there is no telephone.”

The variety of spaces within which writers choose to practice their art is as infinite as the different styles they write in and plots they pen. Some writers prefer company and background noise, while others need isolation – even seeking out loneliness to better enhance their work. Some need the magical monotony of sameness, and others the inspiration of variety.

But are there any qualities that these ‘creative safe spaces’ have in common, beyond the superficial differences of location or appearance?

Just as certain spaces seem to lend themselves to the art of reading, providing a near perfect sanctuary for doing so, so too, perhaps, do some places seem ideally suited to the act of writing. Or, at least, perhaps there are shared characteristics of places that provide necessary elements conducive to the act of writing and creative expression.

This is the subject of a fascinating hypothesis from Ted Hughes, one of the true giants of 20th century British poetry, which he discusses during an interview with the Paris Review.

Asked whether he has a favourite place to write, Hughes embarks on a wonderfully enlightening and thoughtful off-the-cuff verbal essay on writing spaces, and whether it is possible for writers to write anywhere, or if there are certain elements that are required to make a place suitable to practice one’s chosen art. He says:

“Hotel rooms are good. Railway compartments are good. I’ve had several huts of one sort or another. Ever since I began to write with a purpose I’ve been looking for the ideal place. I think most writers go through it. I’ve known several who liked to treat it as a job—writing in some office well away from home, going there regular hours. Sylvia had a friend, a novelist, who used to leave her grand house and go into downtown Boston to a tiny room with a table and chair where she wrote facing a blank wall. Didn’t Somerset Maugham also write facing a blank wall?

Subtle distraction is the enemy—a big beautiful view, the tide going in and out. Of course, you think it oughtn’t to matter, and sometimes it doesn’t. Several of my favourite pieces in my book Crow I wrote travelling up and down Germany with a woman and small child—I just went on writing wherever we were.”

Musing on the idea that solitude is crucial for writing, Hughes considers whether loneliness is something writers are drawn to, or if this is something writers can con themselves into thinking:

“Goethe couldn’t write a line if there was another person anywhere in the same house, or so he said at some point. I’ve tried to test it on myself, and my feeling is that your sense of being concentrated can deceive you. Writing in what seems to be a happy concentrated way, in a room in your own house with books and everything necessary to your life around you, produces something noticeably different, I think, from writing in some empty silent place far away from all that. Because however we concentrate, we remain aware at some level of everything around us. Fast asleep, we keep track of the time to the second. The person conversing at one end of a long table quite unconsciously uses the same unusual words, within a second or two, as the person conversing with somebody else at the other end—though they’re amazed to learn they’ve done it.”

Intriguingly, Hughes suggests that the content we are writing, and the form and style in which we write, may be intrinsically linked to the location base ourselves when we come to begin writing. Different places provide for different atmospheres, which lend themselves to different feelings and different levels of concentration. He says:

“Different kinds of writing need different kinds of concentration. Goethe, picking up a transmission from the other side of his mind, from beyond his usual mind, needs different tuning than Enoch Powell when he writes a speech. Brain rhythms would show us what’s going on, I expect. But for me successful writing has usually been a case of having found good conditions for real, effortless concentration. When I was living in Boston, in my late twenties, I was so conscious of this that at one point I covered the windows with brown paper to blank out any view and wore earplugs—simply to isolate myself from distraction. That’s how I worked for a year. When I came back to England, I think the best place I found in that first year or two was a tiny cubicle at the top of the stairs that was no bigger than a table really. But it was a wonderful place to write. I mean, I can see now, by what I wrote there, that it was a good place. At the time it just seemed like a convenient place.”

Of course, finding a suitable creative space to write is only part of the struggle. Indeed, the challenges facing writers today mean that, to a very real extent, all books are written against impossible odds. Yet it seems undeniable that certain writers need certain spaces in which to write. So, what spaces do you require? Do you  choose coffee shops and public spaces, or secluded spaces and secrecy? Can you write wherever you feel relaxed, or do you need specific conditions, with everything adjusted just so – following the style of Virginia Woolf, for instance, who spent two and a half hours every morning writing, on a three-and-a-half foot tall desk with an angled top that allowed her to work both up close and from afar?

In short: where do you write, and why do you write there? Share your ideas for the ideal places for writing in the comments below!

Raymond Chandler on what people really want to read

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Throughout his career as a writer (following his stint as an oil company executive), Raymond Chandler almost single-handedly crafted the pulp fiction genre with novels such as The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye and The Lady In The Lake as well as numerous screenplays. His most famous creation, picaresque private detective Philip Marlowe, has been portrayed on screen by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Robert Montgomery, Robert Mitchum and Elliott Gould.

The author’s career as a pulp writer began in the Thirties, when he realised he could make money from it. He taught himself to write pulp fiction by studying the Perry Mason stories of Erle Stanley Gardner. Chandler’s first professional work, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”, was published in Black Mask magazine in 1933. 

In 1950, Chandler described in a letter to his English publisher, Hamish Hamilton, why he began reading pulp magazines and later wrote for them:

Wandering up and down the Pacific Coast in an automobile I began to read pulp magazines, because they were cheap enough to throw away. This was in the great days of the Black Mask (if I may call them great days) and it struck me that some of the writing was pretty forceful and honest, even though it had its crude aspect. I decided that this might be a good way to try to learn to write fiction and get paid a small amount of money at the same time. I spent five months over an 18,000 word novelette and sold it for $180. After that I never looked back, although I had a good many uneasy periods looking forward.

From the moment he started writing pulp, he planned from the first to smuggle something like literature into the stories he penned.

Most of the magazines publishing this type of fiction at the time hooked their readers with a mixture of sex and violence – “they have juxtaposed the steely automatic and the frilly panty and found that it pays off”, wrote SJ Perelman. But Chandler wanted to do more than titillate: he had designs on his audience’s subconscious. He planned to sneak into his stories a quality which readers “would not shy off from, perhaps not even know was there … but which would somehow distil through their minds and leave an afterglow”.

His reasoning for this was that readers actually wanted to read this type of writing; even if the publishers didn’t think they did. In another letter to his editor, Chandler explained this in his characteristically simple and insightful way:

“A long time ago when I was writing for pulps, I put into a story a line like ‘he got out of the car and walked across the sun drenched sidewalk until the shadow of the awning over the entrance fell across his face like the touch of cool water.’ They took it out when they published the story. Their readers didn’t appreciate this sort of thing: it just held up the action. And I set out to prove them wrong. My theory was they just thought they cared nothing about anything but the action; that really, although they didn’t know it, they cared very little about the action. The things they really cared about, and that I cared about, were the creation of emotion through dialogue and description; the things they remembered, that haunted them, were not for example that a man got killed, but that in the moment of his death he was trying to pick a paper clip up off the polished surface of a desk, and it kept slipping away from him, so that there was a look of strain on his face and his mouth was half open in a kind of tormented grin, and the last thing in the world he thought about was death. He didn’t even hear death knock on the door. That damn little paper clip kept slipping away from his fingers and he just couldn’t push it to the edge of the desk and catch it as it fell.”

For more thoughts on writing and reading, check out our writing tips for writers, and creatives in profile interview series!

12 of the worst book titles

41zam5-DcwL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_

We are told not to judge books by their cover. But should we judge them by their titles? Arguably, when the cover of a book has a title like “Images you should not masturbate to”, it is a tough task not to begin to form assumptions and opinions. From “Reusing old graves” to “Games you can play with your pussy”, here are some of our favourite terrible (intentionally or otherwise) book titles that we have come across.

  1. The manly art of knitting, by Dave Fougner

51pOBUSENnL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

Joanofarcanada says, “Much manly. Very knitting. Wow.”

Chickadee says, “not much that I can add to the manly art of knitting – the man on the horse with the knitting needles pretty much says it all”

Cherryl Walker says, “Knit a hammock using shovel handles or pool cues? A saddle blanket for your horse using a piece of garden hose? Therein is your challenge! Very practical and forthright, a most excellent instruction manual.”

  1. Everything I know about women I learned from by tractor, by Roger Welsch

51I9BaVtQPL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

Randy170 says, “Had less tractor anecdotes than I expected.”

TomatoLady says, “If you are looking for another collection of Roger’s wonderful tractor stories, you will be disappointed. BUT, that’s OK.”

 

  1. Images you should not masturbate to, by Graham Johnson

41zam5-DcwL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

AmazonCustomer007 says, “Don’t tell me how to live my life.”

Rachel A Schuetz says, “This is just a collection of semi random photos. I could find a better collection on imgur. Not worth 10 bucks.”

Rodnvaldr says, “The title is completely subjective, so don’t let that stop you! You masturbate to whatever you want to masturbate to! This book did contain many images that I would not ever want to masturbate to, so I gave it 4 stars. I suppose I probably “should not” masturbate to any of these images if I wanted to consider myself a “normie” like Graham Johnson obviously is, sitting in an ivory tower somewhere, only masturbating to the “right kind” of images. No thank you! I’ll masturbate to whatever I want! Which was maybe only 3 or 4 images in this book. What?! you can’t tell me what to do! I’m 21 and I’ll do what I want!”

  1. A passion for donkeys, by Elisabeth D Svendson

worst-book-covers-titles-38What the Amazon reviewers said:

Hunter Greeno says, “For a the true Donkey enthusiast. This is not just surface level appreciation…this is heart and soul appreciation for donkeys. Anything you ever wanted to learn about Donkeys can be found in this book.”

Cindy Eriksen says, “Even more than what I expected to learn about donkeys.”

    5. Does God ever speak through cats? By David Evans

worst-book-covers-titles-56What the Amazon reviewers said:

Woodrow Vankirk says, “Being as i had just self published my own book, “Me, My Cats, and God” I ordered this book. What a great book. While it has parallels to my book this is an entirely different story with a different objective. I breathed a sigh of relief as I did not want anyone thinking I “borrowed” from someone elses work. So, cat or animal lovers see how a pet can influence a person’s outlook, behaviour, and faith. and make them all better and stronger. Read this book.”

Ryan H says, “My neighbor’s cat once looked me dead in the eye and began to telepathically dictate a lost chapter of the Book of Revelations to me. He explained that he was the angel Gabriel (in cat form), and God had chosen me as his prophet. I tried to write it down, but couldn’t figure out how to use a pencil at the time (I’d had a lot of acid earlier that day. Also some Vicodin, opium, and a handful large orange pills).

Obviously, some of my unusual experiences that day could have been related to the drugs, but the cat part was definitely from God.”

       6. Scouts in bondage, by Michael Bell

worst-book-covers-titles-15What the Amazon reviewers said:

SamuelDavidAdams says: “Not the real thing huge waste of money.”

ThreeStars says: “I had hoped for more salacious content of a homosexual nature.”

 

      7. Who cares about old people? By Pam Adams

worst-book-covers-titles-20What the Amazon reviewers said:

KristalinMiami says, “It’s moments like these I pray I have a massive heart attack in my 50’s, so I don’t have to be elderly.”

 

 

      8. The beginner’s guide to sex in the afterlife, by David Staume

worst-book-covers-titles-23What the Amazon reviewers said:

Obi Wan says, “A long long time ago I was sliced in half and my body instantly vaporized. Fortunately, my love making package remained intact in the afterlife. Much to my dismay, I discovered that…things…worked a little different. Have you ever tried making love with a body completely composed of ecto-plasm? I’m afraid the endeavor is quite difficult. Plus, she-ghosts are anything but easy to woo.

This book really changed all of that for me. Ever since then, my nether sex life has been greatly improved. Sex in the afterlife is the shizz. This book comes highly recommended.”

Irina Filatova says, “There is nothing about sex in the afterlife in this book. The name is deceptive. It deals with energies and planes and spiritual matters, and may be interesting for a student of metaphysics, however if you are trying to get an answer to the question “is there sex in the afterlife and if yes – can we get some descriptions?” you will be dissapointed!”

  1. Fancy coffins to make yourself, by Dale Power

worst-book-covers-titles-14What the Amazon reviewers said:

Edison says, “yeah, coffins!”

Gould says: “Everything about the book is unprofessional. If you’re an amateur it will not help and if you’re a craftsman you’ll be appalled.

You could do better with your own imagination. If you need dimensions, call a local Funeral Home, they’ll be glad to help.

Amazon should pull this title from their inventory.”

     10. Games you can play with your pussy, by Ira Alterman

worst-book-covers-titles-7What the Amazon reviewers said:

Johny says, “Gave it to my girlfriend for her birthday and now she won’t come out of the bedroom”

Sramazon says, “I was concerned that the pussy had grown tired of me, but this book has given me so many more tricks to play on pussy.”

  1. Reusing old graves, by Douglas Davies

41qgJOwmdBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

RW Haven says, “I really dug this book.”

Butler says, “I bought this book as several elder members of our family are nearing the age to need a grave. I thought this book would show me how to save money by reusing old graves that people don’t need (long decomposed, etc). Well this book had no advice at all to offer. I feel like I wasted money that I could have spent on purchasing new graves.”

     12. Still stripping after 25 years, by Eleanor Burns

worst-book-covers-titles-16What the Amazon reviewers said:

Deb Phillips says, “All pages are intact and readable.”

A Sullivan says, “This hardbound book is filled with great pictures of many of her best ideas- “simplify the process, be brave, and enjoy your own creativity.” Quilt top piecing becomes a breeze because her directions are explicit, logical and easy to follow even if you are a novice. Warning, if you ever listen to her on t.v. her voice and demeanor may drive you a bit bonkers. None the less, Eleanor is a quilting expert worth her weight in gold. Her methods always make patterns that look difficult, easier for big chickens like me!”

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you have stumbled across a book with a title so bad you think it deserves to be included here, then let us know in the comments below! 

An ancestral yearning: why do writers love the ocean?

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“I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world,” Herman Melville’s narrator, Ishmael, explains in the opening chapter of Moby Dick. “It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating circulation.”

There is, undeniably, something about the ocean and the sea – the “watery part of the world” – which draws human beings toward it. For millennia, we have found an affinity in these places, with their sense of the sublime – as Melville writes, we are enraptured by “times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin.” Creation myths across history and spanning a multitude of different faiths begin in the sea – as though our ancestors somehow knew, inherently, of our origins as single-celled amoebas drifting in the primordial soup of the earth’s first ever oceans.

So it is perhaps understandable that this natural human connection with the oceans can transform into something of an obsession among writers and artists. The beguiling, ever-changing nature of the sea moved TS Eliot to write: “The sea has many voices / Many gods and many voices […] we cannot think of a time that is oceanless.” Michel Foucault, meanwhile, observed that “In civilisations without boats, dreams dry up.”

Since Juliet first told Romeo: “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep. The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite,” Shakespeare’s lines have been whispered for centuries by star-crossed lovers stealing his words. And the bard’s love for the sea is almost as infinite as Juliet’s for Romeo – the word ocean appears well over 200 times in his plays.

From birth to life

The Australian novelist Tim Winton has nearly drowned several times; yet he, too, comes back again and again to the ocean, both in his writing, and in his general pursuits (he plays a key role in the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s campaign to protect the ocean from overfishing and pollution). The reason for this obsession, Winton believes, is simple:

“Let’s face it, you do nine months as a free diver in your mother’s womb; you belong to a planet that’s mostly water; your body is mostly water,” Winton says.

“I don’t think there’s any mystery why we would be drawn to it – I think there’s some kind of ancestral yearning. We all came from water. It feels like home.”

Perhaps this sense of homecoming was what English poet Percy Bysshe Shelly was searching for during his days with his piratical friend Edward Trelawny, who recalled Shelley jumping into a river and sinking to the bottom, as if seeking his amniotic origins – once again returning to the womb as an unplugged foetus.

Shelley, of course, would drown before his 30th birthday. And while his death was an accident, there is a connection here that spans the centuries between both himself and another literary giant – Virginia Woolf.

That Woolf would commit suicide by drowning mirrors a deep connection with water and the sea found in her writing. In her most elegiac work, The Waves, the sea is fundamental both to the structure and themes of the book, and also to the characters themselves.  In a passage auguring her author’s own fate, Rhoda imagines launching a garland of flowers over a cliff, to “sink and settle on the waves” and her body with it, like the suicidal Ophelia. “The sea will drum in my ears. The white petals will be darkened with sea water. They will float for a moment and then sink. Rolling me over the waves will shoulder me under.”

A scientific hypothesis

Such intense connections – or obsessions, depending on your point of view – with the earth’s watery bodies, can possibly be explained scientifically.

In 1984 Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard University biologist, naturalist, and entomologist, coined the term “biophilia” to describe his hypothesis that humans have “ingrained” in our genes an instinctive bond with nature. He theorised that because we have spent most of our evolutionary history—three million years and 100,000 generations or more — in nature (before we started forming communities or building cities), we have an innate love of natural settings. Before that, our biological connection to water (human foetuses still have “gill-slit” structures in their early stages of development) extended for millions of years as our early ancestors evolved in the earth’s oceans. Like a child depends upon its mother, humans have always depended upon nature for our survival. And just as we intuitively love our mothers, we are linked to nature and water physically, cognitively, and emotionally.

This, perhaps, is the reason that human beings simply like to see the sea. If you hand photographs and paintings of natural landscapes to people and ask them to rate the ones they find most attractive, and which they felt more positive towards, respondents gave the highest ratings to the pictures containing water.

While humans were developing an evolutionary preference for a certain type of water-containing landscape, the human brain was also being shaped by environmental demands. Indeed, according to molecular biologist John Medina, the human brain evolved to “solve problems related to surviving in an unstable outdoor environment, and to do so in nearly constant motion.” Because water has been crucial for our survival – both as source of food, and in more recent years as a source of money through trade and maritime industries – our brains have become neurologically wired to seek out the sea.

Waves of inspiration

Perhaps, however, writers are drawn to the sea because it possesses the same infinite and impossible qualities of the imagination – and of the task of writing, or creating any form of art. Just as the sea exists in a state of constant change, can lie tranquil and calm for a seeming age before suddenly erupting into the most enraged and energetic storm, and has the power to both lift you up and drag you under to dark and fathomless depths, so too must the writer grapple with the instantaneous changes that take place within the mind and imagination; and struggle with the challenge of putting word after word to paper consistently, fighting the various afflictions of writers’ block, distraction, and self-doubt. Writing, when the words are flowing freely, has the ability to lift you up and make you soar – the adrenaline rushing in your bloodstream. But it also has the ability to make you weak, and take you down some twisting rabbit holes as you uncover the secrets of your heart.

Joseph Conrad wrote that “the sea has never adopted the cause of its masters.” Neither has the act of creative writing, which is no formulaic act that can be mastered in totality. It is perhaps this enigmatic and uncontrollable quality that so enamours writers – and human beings – and also brings them back time and time again to stand at the shore of the sea, and sit before the typewriter, blank page, or computer screen, and grapple with the frightening and exciting infinite possibilities of both the sea, and of artistic endeavour.

Movie review: Sink

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There is always a sense of excitement in watching a film debut. We live in an increasingly homogenised culture, in which it seems the only movies released at cinemas are sequels, prequels, reboots or copies of movies that are copies of other successful movies. The commercialism of the movie production industry has minimised the potential of this artistic medium as a tool of change; a tool of artistic expression – where new ideas, new films, new actors, and new directors, are often hidden away or swallowed up by the giant media corporations who only want audiences to think about the next superhero movie.

So, to see a genuinely original movie, produced in spite of the crippling power of the big movie studios, is truly thrilling. And it is therefore a pleasure to have been able to watch – and subsequently review – the world premiere of Sink, which tells the story of Micky Mason, a working class man living in East London who must contend with a multitude of different crises of our modern world.

Ultimately, this is a movie about money and power. As Micky’s long-time friend-turned-successful drug supplier notes drily: “You either have the cash, or you don’t – nobody cares where it comes from.”

We are presented with a world in which the institutions of the state – once intended to support and provide help to those in need – have been co-opted, privatised, and rigged to support those who own the businesses and corporations who benefit from a precarious, non-unionised workforce who can be picked up and dropped without recognition of their basic humanity.

The writer and social activist Thomas Merton characterises as “double-talk, tautology, ambiguous cliche, self-righteous and doctrinaire pomposity and pseudoscientific jargon”. This, the characters of Sink find, is not just an aesthetic problem: it renders dialogue impossible; and rendering dialogue impossible is the desired goal for those who want to exercise absolute power. Micky and his peers are therefore unable to engage with the state in any meaningful way – during his Jobcentre interviews, he shares a knowing joke with the employees about the language he must use to effectively work within the parameters of the system; he is “willing” and eager to go to as many interviews as possible, yet while this may satisfy the forms and bureaucracy, it does nothing to significantly bring him any closer to stable, gainful employment. Likewise, his neighbor Jean is literally unable to find the words to engage with the problems of what may be described as post-Capitalism (precarious work; the crisis and decline of manufacturing and industry, replaced by a financier economy) – repeatedly explaining “I can’t talk about it – it makes me too mad”.

The focus of the film shifts as it progresses – as it paints a view of London that feels often taken from the inside looking out; from the council estates on which much of the film takes place just a stone’s throw from the City’s financial district. We are presented with the crises facing both the old and the young – Micky’s father, Sam, battles with dementia and is removed from his care home following some money-driven ‘restructuring’; meanwhile his son, Jason, fights his own demons alone on an estate in which – so he says himself – drugs are the only thing available for him.

Of course, the fact that there are a multitude of different things going on is precisely the point – no person’s life can be lived in isolation, or from the perspective that one development or action will not have its own impact on the other narrative strands that make up a person’s life. This is not just a story of one man – but of so many men, and so many women, living within a society that has been structured in such a way as to ignore the real actuality of existence – what it means to be alive – and thus creates inevitable existential crises.

What makes this film all the more visceral is the fierce plainness with which it is told. It has passion and directness coupled with a darkly comic streak that exposes the Orwellian nature of this bureaucratic world. There are also moments of genuine tension that leave you with a tight chest and on the edge of your seat – a sure sign of real film-making talent for a movie debut and an exceedingly small budget that should make people sit up and take notice.

Indeed, blessed with exceptional performances from the cast, particularly Martin Herdman as Micky, and Ian Hogg as Sam, with an excellent score from Mallik Gris, along with a fine script and direction from Mark Gillis, Sink gets under the skin of the audience in a way precious few films do these days (Associate Producer Mark Rylance says you will find yourselves “immersed” in it). Crucially, it gives a vibrant voice to protagonists who have otherwise lost their language and their power; and so serving a very necessary level of kitchen sink realism to a world and society that seems increasingly ignorant of reality.

 

 

For UK writers and artists, the only choice at this election is Labour

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On Thursday 8th June, UK citizens will go to the polling booths for the third time in three years to vote in an election they did not ask for, called by a Government that has systematically eroded public services, damaged the country’s creative and artistic industries, caused the stagnation of wages for all but the top 5% of earners, and ground the national economy to a standstill through an economically illiterate policy of austerity and a complete overreliance on an unsustainable housing bubble to artificially inflate GDP.

Nothing in the Rulebook has made no apology for positing that the greatest support for creatives – be they writers, artists, photographers, comedians, film makers or sculptors – comes from, and has always come from, political parties on the progressive ‘left’. At this critical juncture, this is a message that bears repeating: another five years of conservative rule would be disastrous for the UK’s creatives (be they aspiring writers and artists or established professionals).

The evidence for this is clear. If you compare and contrast the manifestos for the Conservative and Labour parties, on the subject of arts and culture, there is only one party striving to support and protect such a vital industry.

As this guide demonstrates, while Labour promises investment in arts funding, support for students, protection of UK heritage, culture and media institutions, the Conservatives on the other hand offer only further cuts to arts budgets already slashed to breaking point.

Labour vs Conservatives art funding

That the Conservatives should seek to attack the UK’s creative sector is perhaps unsurprising. Such parties rely on suppressing individual thought and creative expression for their existence, as for these parties, the ignorance of the population is the source of their strength. Free thinking, enlightened individuals are much harder to control.

Few examples illustrate how badly the Conservatives seek to suppress the artistic inclinations of the UK population than their cynical attacks on British libraries. In the name of austerity, UK libraries have closed at a dramatic rate, even as the relatively small costs of running these great institutions (and perfect sanctuary’s for human knowledge) goes solely to fund tax breaks for billionaires.

The reason for these attacks is simple: reading is one of the most usefully mischievous, secretly rebellious acts that there is. Libraries are often said to be fusty and staid — it might be true of the buildings, but it’s not true of the books that await teenagers there. Indeed, as Neil Armstrong once said, the knowledge contained within library books “is fundamental to all human achievement and progress”.

The ideas contained within these books – these works of literature available to every man, woman and child, entirely free of charge – thus have the potential to be revolutionary. In this way, library books are dangerous; and perhaps more dangerous are the librarians that dare to give books out to children too poor and uncultured to know not to take them seriously. Libraries make people powerful — people who shouldn’t be powerful — and we are weaker in untold ways without them.

These are just some of the myriad number of contemporary reasons UK creatives should cast their votes against the Conservative Party and in favour of Labour at the 2017 General Election.

Yet, it is also important here to remember the historical actions of the Conservative Party. While their election campaign strategy has focused a great deal on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s role in facilitating the peace process in Northern Ireland, almost no comment has been passed on the Conservative Party’s support for pro-apartheid regimes in South Africa and Angola; or for their unrelenting support of fascist dictators and regimes in South America. They call Jeremy Corbyn a terrorist sympathiser for attempting to broker peace with the IRA; yet they also called Nelson Mandela a terrorist – and called for him to be hanged. In the 20th Century alone, the Conservatives have done nothing but damage the UK, its citizens, and its economy. From Winston Churchill’s disastrous decision to return the country to the Gold Standard, through the laissez-faire policies of Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin, and onto the imposition of neoliberal economics by Margaret Thatcher (which laid the foundations for the global economic crash in 2007), the party has pursued with unrelenting vigour policies that favour only the richest and most powerful, and help strangle the money available for creatives and artists – cultivating a culture in which artistic work is increasingly difficult to pursue; preventing people from less-wealthy backgrounds from becoming artists in their own right, and thereby reducing the number of new and unique voices operating within the creative sphere – leading to the homogenisation of UK culture.

Theresa May’s Conservative party will be no different. The weak and wobbly Prime Minister has put no thought into ways to make the UK a better place for the country’s writers and artists – let alone the ordinary citizen – beyond promising to bring back fox hunting and steadfastly continue the failed policies of the past. Her zeal for attacking our European allies and her penchant for u-turns mean Brexit negotiations with EU leaders will likely turn into a farce of epic proportions. Should the UK leave Europe with no deal, not only will the economy suffer, so too will universities, students, artists and creatives who rely on strong relationships with partners across the continent.

On the other hand, under Jeremy Corbyn the UK Labour Party has become a genuine party of hope and change. Firmly on the right side of history for decades – like his counterpart Bernie Sanders in the US – Corbyn has transformed Labour from a conservative-lite neoliberal party under Tony Blair into an organisation focused intently on making the UK a better place for all citizens. That he and his party have caught the attention and support of so many, particularly young people, despite the almost consistently negative coverage of his performance in a media controlled by 8 tax dodging billionaires speaks of the resonance of his message. As the rapper, artist, Shakespearean producer and intellectual Akala notes: “For the first time in my adult life someone I consider to be fundamentally decent has a chance of being elected.”

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Photo credit: PA

The opportunity to vote for an honest and decent human being, and for a political party that truly seeks to support the many, rather than the few, while championing the arts and creative industries does not come along often in politics. And it is for this reason – more so than the terrible record of the Conservatives – that voters should mark their ballot papers in favour of the Labour Party at this year’s General Election.

Of course this endorsement comes with caveats. The inherent problems with the First Past the Post system means in certain seats, hard decisions must be made to ensure progressive candidates return to Parliament at the expense of Conservative MPs. Voters in Caroline Lucas’s Brighton Pavilion seat, for instance, should cast their ballots for one of the genuine leading lights in British politics and long-standing supporter of the arts. Meanwhile, on the Isle of White, constituents have the opportunity to elect the Green Party’s Vix Lowthon – who has championed calls for investment in the islands creative sector – at the expense of the Conservatives.

These minor intricacies of democracy aside, it is hard not to feel that the 2017 General Election carries with it a sense of importance. For the first time since the 1980s, people have the opportunity to vote for a genuinely progressive mainstream political party that has broken with the broken neoliberal consensus that has led so many of the world economies to ruin, and has also placed the arts and creative industries at the heart of their manifesto – along with policies that will provide the support UK citizens need to be able to pursue their dreams, unhindered by low wages and mountains of debt. The odds are – and always have been – stacked against those on the progressive left; yet there is now real cause for optimism among UK creatives. Writers and artists so often love creating works based on such underdog stories; but now we have the chance to participate in a true example of one ourselves.

On Thursday 8th June, vote with hope; vote for hope. Vote Labour.

Comparison: Labour vs Conservative plans for UK arts and creative sector

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Ahead of the UK General Election on June 8, Nothing in the Rulebook recently compiled separate articles on what the manifestos of the two main political parties – Labour and the Conservatives – mean for the UK arts sector and those professionals working (or seeking to work) within the country’s creative industries.

In the interests of convenience, the team here at NITRB have followed these pieces up with what is – we hope – a helpful and easy-to-read guide comparing the pledges of the two political parties.

That the Labour Party pledges far more in support of the arts is perhaps no surprise; protecting and improving the UK’s cultural heritage and supporting new creative and artistic endeavours has long been a crucial part of the party’s policy, particularly since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015. The Conservative party, on the other hand, have consistently slashed funding to the arts – by almost £50 million since they first came to power in 2010 – and, in their 88-page manifesto, the word ‘art’ appears just four times.

 

 

What Labour’s manifesto means for UK creatives

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As the date of the UK General Election nears, Nothing in the Rulebook has sifted through the manifestos of the Labour and Conservative parties to decipher exactly what each is offering in terms of support for the arts and creative industries in the UK.

It is important to note that, over the past six years, £42.8 million has been cut from Britain’s Arts Councils by the incumbent Conservative (and Con-Dem coalition) governments. Cuts to local government have also meant library closures and the end of creative arts evening classes. For many people, the increasingly precarious, time-consuming and low-paid nature of work has also restricted access to the arts, and made it ever more difficult for aspiring creatives to pursue their passion.

Under a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government, this seems set to change. The Labour Party’s manifesto promises to provide a £1 billion culture fund and to end cuts to local authority budget funding if it wins the general election on 8th June.

Labour said it would introduce the fund in order to “upgrade our existing cultural and creative infrastructure to be ready for the digital age”.

The fund would also invest in creative clusters across the country, designed to boost economic growth through culture.

It would be administered through Arts Council England over a period of five years, and is described by Labour as “among the biggest arts infrastructure funds ever”.

Labour has also promised to end local authority budget cuts, which have resulted in widespread cuts to the arts nationwide.

Stopping this has been identified by leading cultural bodies as a key area for the sector to lobby the new government.

The manifesto also includes the introduction of a £160 million pupil premium for the arts, which would allow schools to invest in creative projects.

The idea was first mooted by party leader Jeremy Corbyn last year, and comes alongside manifesto promises to “put creativity back at the heart of the curriculum” and review the English Baccalaureate.

Pledges include strengthening the pipeline of creative talent, with measures such as a creative careers advice campaign in schools to demonstrate the range of opportunities available and the skills required “from the tech sector to theatre production”.

The manifesto also mentions fair pay for those working in the arts, claiming: ‘too often the culture of low or no pay means it isn’t an option for those without well-off families to support them.’ Labour will work with trade unions and employers to agree sector-specific advice and guidelines on pay and employment standards, making ‘the sector more accessible to all’.

“We will improve diversity on and off screen, working with the film industry and public service and commercial broadcasters to find rapid solutions to improve diversity,” it added.

Labour’s manifesto also suggests extending the business rates relief scheme for pubs to small venues, in a bid to protect them, as well as implementing the agent of change principle across the country – a measure already pledged for London by mayor Sadiq Khan.

In addition, Labour has also announced it will maintain free entry to museums, claiming Conservative cuts to arts funding and local authorities have created a tough financial climate for museums, with some closing or reducing their services, and others starting to charge entry fees.

The party has also pledged to address the ‘value gap’ between producers of creative content and the digital services that profit from its use. The manifesto states: ‘We will work with all sides to review the way that innovators and artists are rewarded for their work in the digital age.’

A portion of the manifesto also focuses on making music venues more resilient, with Labour aiming to support the music industry’s infrastructure. There will be a review extending the £1,000 pub relief business rates scheme to small music venues, while Labour will introduce an ‘agent of change’ principle in planning law, to ensure that new housing developments can coexist with existing music venues.

The party has also pledged to support and protect one of the UK’s most valued public institutions: the BBC.

That the Labour Party has delivered a manifesto so positively supportive of the arts and creative industries is perhaps no surprise – as the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has continually backed the sector for years, and made it a key part of his leadership campaign in 2015.

What the Conservative Party’s manifesto means for UK creatives

As the date of the UK General Election nears, Nothing in the Rulebook has sifted through the manifestos of the Labour and Conservative parties to decipher exactly what each is offering in terms of support for the arts and creative industries in the UK.

It is important to note that, over the past six years, £42.8 million has been cut from Britain’s Arts Councils by the incumbent Conservative (and Con-Dem coalition) governments. Cuts to local government have also meant library closures and the end of creative arts evening classes. For many people, the increasingly precarious, time-consuming and low-paid nature of work has also restricted access to the arts, and made it ever more difficult for aspiring creatives to pursue their passion.

Under a Theresa May-led Conservative government, the indications are that this seems set to continue.

In the section of the (uncosted) Conservative manifesto, ‘Stronger Communities for a Stronger Economy’, the party pledges somewhat untangible policies of “continuing our strong support for the arts”, without many specific plans or ideas for how the party will actually show said support.

Of what pledges there are to be found, the party promises to maintain free entry to the permanent collections of “major” national museums and galleries, but fails to offer any protection for all museums and galleries – or clarify what locations would be classified as “major”.

The Conservatives also promise to hold a “Great Exhibition of the North” in 2018, to “celebrate amazing achievements in innovation, the arts and engineering”.

In addition, the party plans to support an as-yet un-named UK city in making a bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and, as 2017 marks the 70th Anniversary Year of the Edinburgh Festival, pledges to support the development of the new Edinburgh Concert Hall.

Intriguingly, given David Cameron’s plans in 2015 and 2016 to sell the publicly-owned Channel 4 broadcasting company, Theresa May’s Conservative manifesto promises that Channel 4 will remain publicly owned, and will also be relocated outside of London.

It is perhaps telling that, in an 88-page document, the word ‘Art’ appears just four times. Yet, with funding for the arts consistently slashed under successive Conservative governments, it is perhaps not all that surprising.

You can read about what the Labour Party’s plans for the arts are here.