Friday, 26 February 2010

Tips on writing

Ten tips for writing (fiction, mainly) from The Guardian 20 Feb 2010.

"Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray. Inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, we asked authors for their personal dos and don'ts"

Monday, 22 February 2010


My brand new motto: Nomina Rutrum Rutrum
By Lucy Kellaway Financial Times: February 8 2010
Acouple of weeks ago I wrote what I thought was the definitive guide on how to sign off an e-mail and was confident that I had laid the matter to rest. Yet I've just received an e-mail that has given me pause. It was signed off " Audere est facere " - which is the motto of the Tottenham Hotspur football club and means "to dare is to do".
I don't like football. I don't like men who go on about their football teams. I don't like cheesy exhortations. I don't understand Latin. But there is something about this that appeals to me.
In fact, I find myself strangely drawn to other football mottos. I like Bury’s motto: Vincit Omnia Industria (Hard Work Overcomes Everything) and I like Blackburn Rovers' Arte et Labore (By Skill and Hard Work) even more.
Schools have some stirring mottos, too. A couple of years ago Gordon Brown was much mocked for quoting his motto: Usque Conabor (I Will Try Harder). Yet it seems to me that this is the best possible advice for every school child – and for every prime minister.
An even better motto is the startlingly honest Nous Maintiendrons - which is French for We Will Keep on Keeping on.
These mottos, though wonderful things in themselves, have a lot to answer for. The Victorians who thought them up were unwittingly laying the foundation stone for some of the most questionable practices in management. They are to blame for mission statements and were the beginning of the self-help industry.
My own school motto at Camden School for Girls was Onwards and Upwards (which as 14-year-olds we thought screamingly funny). Yet this sentiment is responsible for thousands of self-help books that say in about 50,000 words what the motto says in three.
Traditional mottos are good not merely because they are brief but because they come from an age that was pre-touchy-feely and pre-bullshit.
The newer ones show a shocking falling off. A primary school in north London has recently dreamt up the tiresomely wet slogan: Together Everyone Achieves More, which spells Team.
Traditional mottos are also strong enough to survive ridicule.
At William Ellis, the boys school over the road from the house where I grew up, the (excellent, in my view) motto - Rather Use than Fame - was subverted by the cool boys, who inked over some of the letters so that it read: "Rather U than me."
Latin is hugely helpful in giving a motto some oomph. This is partly because it lends an air of sophistication, learning and tradition. But it is also because most people don't have the first idea what it actually means and so have to go to the effort of finding out. Once they have done this, any banality in the actual meaning is camouflaged.
But the biggest advantage is that it is quite impossible to be naff, vague or moronic in Latin. Consider one of the most naff management exhortations: Walk the Talk. Translate it into Latin and you get Res non Verba , which is elegant and profound and is the motto of a private school in Yorkshire.
Companies should learn from these school mottos. It is no coincidence that the best company slogan of all time - Avis's We Try Harder - is almost exactly the same as Gordon Brown's school motto.
The motto of Eton College - Floreat Etona , or May Eton Flourish - might be sickeningly self-serving for a school in which boys still mince about in tail coats, but would do nicely in the corporate world, where making a company flourish is what the game is all about. Floreat FT , has rather a good ring to it.
This leads me to suggest that all mission statements should be translated into Latin, and any that proved impossible to translate should be scrapped. "We aim to add value to our external stakeholders" would have left a man in a toga scratching his head and, therefore, has no place in the modern world either.
I have decided that I need a motto for the top of this column and the bottom of my e-mails. I've been toying with Vox Clamantis in Deserto , which means a voice crying in the desert and is the motto of Dartmouth College in the US. But I think it's a bit self-important and not right anyway as I'm neither crying nor in a desert.
So instead I have created my own. In English it is To Call a Spade a Spade, but I have just got someone to translate it into Latin for me, and am quite delighted by the result: Nomina Rutrum Rutrum. To post comments online, go to

Friday, 12 February 2010

Kool Kulala

Love this South African airline: Kulala

The captain’s window is marked with the big cheese (”captain, my captain!”), the co-pilot’s window with co-captain (the other pilot on the PA system) and the jump seat is for wannabe pilots.

In addition, the following descriptions of plane parts can be found:

    * galley (cuppa anyone?)
    * avionics (fancy navigation stuff)
    * windows (best view in the world)
    * wing #1 and #2
    * engine #1 and #2 (26 000 pounds of thrust)
    * emergency exit = throne zone (more leg room baby!)
    * seats (better than taxi seats)
    * some windows = kulula fans (the coolest peeps in the world)
    * black box (which is actually orange)
    * landing gear (comes standard with supa-fly mags)
    * back door (no bribery/corruption here)
    * tail (featuring an awesome logo)
    * loo (or mile-high club initiation chamber)
    * rudder (the steering thingy)
    * stabiliser (the other steering thingy)
    * a.p.u. (extra power when you need it most)
    * galley (food, food, food, food…)
    * boot space
    * ZS-ZWP (OK-PIK) = secret agent code (aka plane’s registration)
    * overhead cabins (VIP seating for your hand luggage)
    * fuel tanks (the go-go juice)
    * cargo door
    * aircon ducts (not that kulula needs it… they’re already cool)
    * front door (our door is always open … unless we’re at 41 000 feet)
    * cockpit window = sun roof
    * nose cone (radar, antenna, and a really big dish inside)

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Written Voice

Came across this recent reference to ‘Developing a Written Voice’ by Dona J. Hickey.

She has an exercise for students in her writing classes, requiring them to use only single syllable words and sentences of fewer than ten words. This forces the writer to place the key words in the sentence close together, and makes the writing forceful.

‘The most powerful position in a sentence are the first and last words. The closer these words come together, the more forceful the message is.’

 ‘When monosyllabic words end in a hard consonant, they form a power unit in English. When monosyllabic, consonant-ended words are placed at the end of a sentence (the most powerful position), their force is doubled.’

She notes that a succession of monosyllabic words, especially those ending in consonants, make the message emphatic and forceful.

Multisyllabic words, on the other hand, soften the language. They can make it more tranquil, compassionate and tender.

Hmmm. Must try harder to use shorter words, simpler sentences.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Innocent bottoms up

Like innocent's competition for messages of 40 characters or less, to go on the bottom of their bottles. Here are a few...

wrong way up mate

.. -. -. --- -.-. . -. - love morse code

I'm feeling fruity! Take my top off... 

You've got the lid on, right?

First time, right?

I can never find the sell by date either     

Fairer National Insurance for freelancers

A freelance writer’s is petitioning the governement to make the National Insurance system fairer for self-employed workers. Journalist and copywriter Anne Wollenberg says the NI system as it stands “is stacked against freelancers”. She points out that: “An employee earning millions loses their job after 2 years and gets 6 months’ contributory (non-means-tested) JSA. A freelancer signs on as their business fails. They can’t get contributory JSA and must apply for means-tested benefit, which they probably won’t get if their spouse or partner works.”

She also highlights the problem of freelancers being forced onto PAYE for casual work and having to pay Class 1 NI even though these sporadic payments don’t count but can’t be reclaimed.

She is calling for:

· Freelance NI to count towards contributory JSA or Class 3 top-ups to be eligible

· Better explanation of current rules to people registering as self-employed

· Those paying Class 1 NI for 2 years to retain eligibility for contributory JSA if they then go freelance

· A higher threshold for freelancers before paying Class 1 or a Class 1 exemption system