Literary Constellations: visualising the opening sentences of famous books

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From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Time Machine, data art meets literature through Nick Rougeaux’s Literary Constellations project.

When Kurt Vonnegut proposed for his Ph.D thesis statement that “stories have a shapes which can be drawn on graph paper”, it was rejected as by his university. According to Vonnegut, the reason for this rejection was that “it looked like too much fun”.

The idea that it is possible to visualise the way stories are structured may not be entirely new; yet it is always fascinating to see how Vonnegut’s thesis has progressed.

In a new project, the data artist Nick Rougeaux aims to do just this. In Literary Constellations he posits: “words can be transformed into constellation-like diagrams. The first words of a story—and even every chapter—are unique in that they set the stage for what’s to come.”

The project contains a series of astronomy-inspired diagrams of the opening sentences of beloved books and short stories in the public domain, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Time Machine.

Rougeaux explains:

Constellations were created from words of first sentences of each chapter in classic short stories to draw a path based on word length and part of speech. The directions of lines were based on part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc.) and length is based on the length of the word. Star sizes are also based on word length. Constellations were hand-arranged in a loose clockwise pattern starting at the top with a faint highlight connecting each in the order chapters appeared in the story representing the cloud of the galaxy usually shown in vintage star charts.”

Given that the first sentence of a story is often seen as the most important – Julian Barnes once noted that an opening sentence of a short story or novel “should contain the entire plot in nuce” – it is fascinating for both aspiring and established writers to explore the patterns contained within the first sentence of famous novels; to better visualise the way these critically important first words set in motion the rest of the story.

Take a look at some of Rougeaux’s excellent posters below. All of these are available for purchase starting at US$27.80 for 24×36

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The changing language of nature

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Is the language of the countryside is being replaced by that of the digital era? Photography by Mike Dodson, via Vagabond Images

Over the last decade, the Oxford Junior Dictionary has cut a suite of words from the natural world, including “buttercup”, “acorn”, and “mistletoe”. They have been replaced by the language of the digital age – “broadband”, “cut-and-paste”, and “blog”. A question that surely arises from this is what effect such subtle changes in our curation of language will have on our future writing – and even the way future generations perceive the world, and interact with it.

If it is the priority of a dictionary to state the obvious rather than to encourage learning, then it may be argued that something has gone drastically wrong with our approach to life and – even more worryingly – with our relationship to the countryside.

In an open letter to Oxford University Press, 28 leading writers, including Margaret Atwood, penned an open letter urging the publisher to reinstate the words of nature. They wrote:

“We base this plea on two considerations […] Firstly, the belief that nature and culture have been linked from the beginnings of our history. For the first time ever, that link is in danger of becoming unravelled, to the detriment of society, culture, and the natural environment.

Secondly, childhood is undergoing profound change; some of this is negative; and the rapid decline in children’s connections to nature is a major problem.”

They add:

“All our dictionaries are designed to reflect language as it is used, rather than seeking to prescribe certain words or word usages. We employ extremely rigorous editorial guidelines in determining which words [can] be included in each dictionary, based on several criteria: acknowledging the current frequency of words in daily language of children of that age; corpus analysis; acknowledging commonly misspelled or misused words; and taking curriculum requirements into account.”

[…]

We recognise the need to introduce new words and to make room for them and do not intend to comment in detail on the choice of words added. However it is worrying that in contrast to those taken out, many are associated with the interior, solitary childhoods of today. In light of what is known about the benefits of natural play and connection to nature; and the dangers of their lack, we think the choice of words to be omitted shocking and poorly considered. We find the explanations issued recently too narrowly focussed on a lexicographical viewpoint without consideration for the social context.”

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Photography by Mike Dodson, via Vagabond Images

In riposte to digital language

How might we counter the encroachment of the digital era on the language we use to describe the world – particularly the natural, ‘real’, world?

For decades the leading nature writer Robert Macfarlane has been collecting unusual words for landscapes and natural phenomena – from aquabob to zawn. His curation of such natural lexicons pulls together nine glossaries of terms taken from 30 languages, dialects and sub-dialects around Britain and Ireland. They all describe aspects of weather, nature and terrain.

Many of these words are dying out, slipping out of conversation and forgotten by those who once spoke them freely. They are being – and in some cases have already been – lost. By rediscovering them, Macfarlane offers a clear riposte to the move by Oxford University Press to replace words of the natural world with those of the digital one.

In an excellent interview with the brilliant Rowena Macdonald – whose book, The Threat Level Remains Severe, has been longlisted for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize – Macfarlane describes two of his favourite rediscovered words:

“One is this lovely Cornish word ‘zawn’, which means a wave-smashed chasm in a sea cliff – it’s so evocative of that gaping mouth, and the power of those places,” he says. “Another is this soft, Gaelic phrase ‘rionnach maoim’, the shadows that clouds cast on moorland on a windy day. There’s something about the poetry of that, the precision and the need to compress that phenomenon down into that gorgeous soft phrase.”

Macfarlane is convinced the importance of words that describe or engage with the natural world extend beyond being simply of interest. By enriching our vocabularies, Macfarlane believes, we can change the way we interact with our landscape:

“We increasingly make do with an impoverished language for nature, a generic language: ‘field’, and ‘wood’, and ‘hill’, and ‘countryside’. It’s a very basic way of denoting, and that’s fine, and sometimes we need to speak generally,” he says. “We can’t always speak absolutely precisely. But I’m fascinated by details and by the specifics of nature, and its particularities – and language helps us to see those.”

Why should the loss of such words matter? And why should we be so enthused by Macfarlane’s work? Simply, it matters because language deficit leads to attention deficit. As we deplete our ability to denote and figure particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted. To quote the American farmer and essayist Wendell Berry – “people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love, and to defend what we love we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.” Or as the author Mark Cocker puts it, “If acorn goes from the lexicon, the game is up for nature in England.”

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Photography by Mike Dodson, via Vagabond Images

Chasing the sublime

The Victorian and Romantic poets found in nature something beyond superficial human understanding or meaning: that sense of the sublime. In Peri Hypsous or On the Sublime, a work of literary criticism by the Greek author pseudo-Longinus (1st century BCE), sublimity refers to ‘excellence’ in language and to whatever is elevated or noble in the human spirit. That it has been so intrinsically bound in nature – and some of our finest examples of writing and usage of language tied in turn to this – speaks to the enormous importance of the natural world to inspire our creative minds in myriad unexpected and beautiful ways. Standing beneath Mont Blanc, Percy Bysshe Shelley found “the everlasting universe of things” and “the source of human thought”.  If we are to begin eradicating the language of nature – however slowly, or by however small degrees – we also begin to eradicate our ability to see, through nature, something that exists beyond our superficial and tenuous experiences and understanding of reality and human knowledge.

Perhaps it will one day be possible to encounter the sublime within blogs, emails, and social media. But for now it seems the likeliest way of elevating our consciousness remains in the countryside, surrounded by the beauty of the natural world.

Flash Fiction: A list of places to submit your work

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If you’ve checked out our list of writing competitions and want to try your hand at something else, why not explore the world of Flash Fiction websites and magazines?

Whether you want to call it micro-fiction, sudden fiction, smokelong lit, short-shorts or flash fiction, writing stories under 1000 words requires dedication, skill and applying new techniques to make them zing. But, when done right, a good piece of flash fiction can offer a true – albeit fleeting – moment of literary delight to both writers and readers.

We’ve compiled a list of places accepting flash fiction submissions on the regular for you to try your hand. Check them out!

  1. Flash Fiction Magazine

A leading journal of flash fiction and reviews, published in April and October. For work no longer than 360 words. Contributors receive a complimentary copy of the issue in which their work appears. Flash nominates selected stories to the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions anthologies.

  1. Flash Fiction Online

Flash Fiction Online strives to publish fiction that presents the full variety of humanity in its pages. As such, the website encourage submissions from writers of every stripe. The editors particularly like to see stories from writers whose backgrounds not well-represented in the field of short fiction, whether it be due to race/ethnicity, religion, ability, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or something not listed in this statement.

  1. 100 word story

100 words for your story … no more or no less. Tell a story, write a prose poem, pen a slice of your memoir, or try your hand at an essay.

You get 100 words—exactly 100 words—which is both the pain and the pleasure here. It’s short, you tell yourself. You would write 100 words at a bus stop, on your lunch break, in your sleep. But with 100 words you must tell the whole story in its entirety, so it holds together like a perfect little doll house. (Your title is not part of the 100 words.)

  1. Everyday Fiction

Every Day Fiction is looking for very short (flash) fiction, of up to 1000 words. There’s no such thing as too short — if you can do the job in 50 words, have at it! — but preferred submissions should tell or at least hint at a complete story (some sort of action or tension rising to a moment of climax, and at least a clue toward a resolution, though it doesn’t have to be all spelled out).

All fiction genres are acceptable, and stories that don’t fit neatly into any genre are welcome too.

  1. The Collagist

The Collagist considers all lengths of fiction from flash to novella. It is published once every two months. Each issue features original fiction, poetry, and essays, most of which come from unsolicited submissions.

  1. Smokelong Quarterly

Founded in 2003, which makes it one of the longest-running flash fiction journals. For fiction you can read during the length of a cigarette. They publish fiction under 1000 words.

  1. Two Sentence Stories

They count full stops. There should only be two.

  1. Vestel Review

One of – and possibly the – oldest magazines dedicated exclusively to flash fiction. The editors are looking for good flash fiction – the type of work that contains a cohesive plot, rich language and enticing imagery all within 500 words. Your stories should engage the mind not only for the time it takes to read; but for a long time after, too.

  1. Lunch Ticket

These guys want your writing, go send it to them.

  1. Writing Maps – the A3 Review

The team at the A3 Review believe in words and images, and love a combination of the two. They’re looking for prose, poetry, graphic stories, photography, paintings, drawings, and other visual and word-based creations and various combinations of the above.

The two winning entries each month are published in The A3 Review, a fold-out literary and art magazine that comes out every six months.

  1. Ad Hoc Fiction

Run by the team behind the Bath Flash Fiction competition, Ad Hoc Fiction runs weekly contests – you write 150 words, they publish a long list of submissions, and the public decides the winner. Your chance at winning a £1000 prize.

  1. Nothing in the Rulebook

Hey now, you can’t forget us! We’re always looking to support new writers and artists with their creative endeavours. We publish poetry, micro fiction and short stories of almost any length – from 50 words to 10,000. If you have something you’d like to see out there, and you want us to read it, get in touch!

 

Have we missed something? If you have a flash fiction journal, magazine, website or app that you’d like to see on this list, then get in touch and let us know.

 

Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech

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In October 1954, Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. And, although he chose not to attend the ceremony (being as he was still recovering from two consecutive plane crashes that had almost killed him), we can still hear him reading lines from his speech, as he recorded it in his own voice at a later date following the ceremony.

You can listen to an excerpt of the speech here, and read the transcript of the complete work below:

“Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.”

Writing vs self-doubt

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For writers, artists and creative spirits alike, the issue of confidence – or lack thereof is as important as it is complicated. The way in which creatives align their relationship with their own work, and whether they feel confident in it or doubting, can be said in many ways to define any successful creative endeavor.

Reflecting on his poem, friendly advice to a lot of young men, Charles Bukowski explains the issue adroitly:

“The problem is that bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt. So the bad writers tend to go on and on writing crap and giving as many readings as possible to sparse audiences. These sparse audiences consist mostly of other bad writers waiting their turn to go on, to get up there and let it out in the next hour, the next week, the next month, the next sometime. The feeling at these readings is murderous, airless, anti-life. When failures gather together in an attempt at self-congratulation, it only leads to a deeper and more, abiding failure. The crowd is the gathering place of the weakest; true creation is a solitary act.”

In a way, then, self-doubt offers an antidote to the arrogance that produces most mediocre art. And this is perhaps a good thing, too, since self-doubt is likely a familiar state to many who attempt to create artistic representations of their inner lives into the outside world.

Of course, to be aware of the propensity to feel doubting in ones work is relatively healthy, as it requires a level of self-awareness and consciousness necessary to keep oneself grounded in that unique space between reality and creativity. Though of course, to be too keenly aware of it, or feel too great a sense of self-doubt, can paralyse any artistic work, as the late, great, David Foster Wallace explains:

“There’s good self-consciousness, and then there’s toxic, paralyzing, raped-by-psychic-Bedouins self-consciousness.”

The inherent problems with self-doubt means it isn’t something we readily or heartily embrace. Instead, we often run from it; we judge it, and we hedge against it using a range of coping mechanisms, many of which backfire into self-loathing. This is to be avoided: “Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt,” Zadie Smith advised in her ten rules for writing.

Few people have captured this exasperating dance with self-doubt better than Virgina Woolf. In Orlando: A Biography, Woolf captures the anguishing self-doubt with which all artists tussle along the creative process:

“Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.”

How many of us have similarly spent entire nights awake at keyboards or notebooks, frantically writing word after word in what seems such an intense creative burst that everything that is put to the page must be worth something, only to look at it once the ink has dried, and we have slept a touch, to find ourselves left cold by the words on the page, and feeling a strange sense of disappointment that even in the most intense creative moments we create something that feels lacking in substance or truth?

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We doubt ourselves because it is natural to do so; yet while awareness of an artist’s tendency to doubt themselves is healthy, it must always be balanced with a dose of self-esteem.

This is not to encourage over confidence in one’s ability, or to suggest it valuable to ignore feelings of self-doubt in one’s work. Nobody should seek to become one of the boring, over confident writers reading to each other in lonely bookstores as Bukowski warned. Yet Self-esteem for creative people is important because it helps you organise yourself and others around an idea, so that you can take it from just that – an ephemeral thought – into something real and actualised. Human beings have more ideas than we often know what to do with; to make them real takes consistent, persistent application of energy toward that idea. Self-esteem is the foundation from which this persistent application, this driving force, can emerge.

In the constant battle between writing – and re-writing (which requires an ability to revisit work you may find lacking and empty) – the crucial antidote, then, is determination. Just as the long-distance runner must repeat the same process of exercise again and again, we must bring the same commitment to writing; turning up day in, day out, regardless of weather, or whether we feel “inspired” enough; and sitting down at our desks and putting word after word and sentence after sentence, just as we place one foot in front of the other out on the road.

The writer and artist Anna Deavere Smith captures the importance of determination exquisitely in a section of her fantastic Letters to a Young Artist – a compendium of counsel addressed to all of us seeking to engage with the world through art and creativity. On the subject of creative endeavour vs self-doubt, and the importance of determination built on solid foundations of self-esteem, she writes:

“Confidence is a static state. Determination is active. Determination allows for doubt and for humility — both of which are critical in the world today. There is so much that we don’t know, and so much that we know we don’t know. To be overly confident or without doubt seems silly to me.

Determination, on the other hand, is a commitment to win, a commitment to fight the good fight.”

 

 

 

Rich person’s kid gets book deal with major publishing house

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The talentless child of a rich person has today received their first book deal with a major publishing house.

The book, titled ‘Dificult [sic] being born rich but wanting to write and take photographs too, maybe’ is expected to hit shelves across the world this weekend, with many expecting sales figures to be numbers.

In a statement, the publishing house confirmed they would not be investing in any new or talented writers, so that they could pump all their resources into ensuring the new book was definitely a collection of words and possibly also photographs printed on paper and bound up together.

“The plot follows the story of a rich boy who takes terrible photographs and writes really poorly trying to get his book published. At first he’s worried that he won’t be able to get his book published, because it is so obviously lacking in talent. But then he remembers that his father is incredibly rich, and everything works out for him,” a spokesperson for the publishing house explained.

“I really think there’s a lot of depth and nuance going on here. Don’t just take our word for it, though – a Rupert Murdoch newspaper said it was a ‘tale for our times’, and I couldn’t agree more.”

Rife with continuity errors, narrative flaws, grammar and spelling mistakes and multiple logical and character-based inconsistencies, the book has quickly formed a cult following among members of the public.

“I actually happen to think its very meta,” a hipster in Shoreditch said without being asked for his opinion. “And I should know, since I regularly refer to myself in the third person.”

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!

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!