Saturday, 30 October 2010

Wirral's MOST haunted library

I love the way the publicity for Wirral Bookfest described my branch - Wallasey Central Library - as 'Wirral's MOST haunted library'. It implies all the others are just slightly haunted, or at most averagely.

So we had famous horror author Ramsey Campbell - he's local - to give a talk and offered the added enticement of a spooky backdrop and a 'ghost' tour of the premises along with a history of the building.

I'd turned up (on my night off) because I was interested in Ramsey Campbell's writing life and tips, but the group was divided in two and one half had the tour while the other half asked questions. I'd been roped in to 'make sure everyone who started on the tour finished it' upstairs. So I missed all the questions. 

Did I mention the library I work in is haunted? There are stories of strange noises, doors opening, an exorcism that not only failed to get rid of restless spirits, but may have enticed some more out of the graveyard next door! 

The tour was given in the spookiest upstairs corridor by our rather severe reference librarian. She told us about the caretaker who hung himself there, and of another, more documented, tragedy: a live-in caretaker spent many years there but when he was widowed the powers-that-be wanted a married couple to do the job and moved him to a smaller branch. Having lost his wife, his benefits and his home, he was heart-broken. He moved in with his son and daughter-in-law. One day they found a note from him on the table. Rushing upstairs they found him lying on the floor of his room in pools of blood. He had slit his own throat.

The first floor corridor we were in - which links the main library with the junior library - was known, she said, for strange 'feelings' - a bone-numbing cold, the sense of not being alone, the committee room door that keeps opening when there are people inside, but never when there aren't.

I go along it to the staff room on a regular basis and nothing has ever tingled my spine or curdled my blood, but after hearing the sorry tales of  hangings, throat slittings, mysterious footsteps etc, I was left in the corridor on my own in the dark to wait for the next group. 

Then I heard footsteps. 

It's a rambling old building, the floor changes level, the corridors aren't straight. There's a winding stone staircase that leads up from an untrammelled part of the ground floor to the floor I was on and then up to the turret. (Yes, we have a turret.)  The footsteps were coming up the stairs. The sound stopped for a second, a pause at the top of the stairs, and then continued towards me. A slow, steady tread. I couldn't see who it was because the corridor is crooked. And we'd turned the lights out earlier for 'effect'. I felt a chill. The footsteps came closer...

... it was my colleague Jane on her way back to the ladies!


On the plus side, I bumped into a chap whose creative writing evening classes I used to go to in that very building, some (ahem) years ago. That isn't him in the picture - it's me getting into the 'spirit' of things.

So there you go - it is clearly Wirral's MOST haunted library - it stirred up ghosts for me!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Top 20 Lightbulb Jokes

The clocks go back this weekend here in the UK and the nights are drawing in so I thought light up your lives by sharing some of the best lightbulb jokes I know.

My favourites (of course) are the ones that subvert cliches or play with words/ideas.

If you're not familiar with the type, the (otherwise disappointing) gives this definition:  How many (name of group of people/persons) does it take to change a light bulb ? Answer: (A finite positive integer F) One to change the bulb, and the rest to (behave in a manner stereotypical of their group) or (say something stereotypical of their group in certain situations)

But don't go rushing off over there because these are better, starting with oldies-but-goodies:

Q: How many men does it take to change lightbulb?

A: One to do it and 9 mates to congratulate him down at the pub


Q: How many Blue Peter presenters does it take to change a lightbulb ?

A: Two. One to change it, and one to turn the old one into an attractive Christmas tree decoration.


Q: How many librarians does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: "I don't know, but I can look it up for you."


Q: Another topical one! How many Local Government Officials does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Fifty, one to change the light bulb and 49 to carry out a fact finding mission to Shanghai to see how they change light bulbs there.


Q: How many censors does it take to change a light bulb?

A: One to ---- ------- ----- and another to ---- ----- ---- while ---- ---- - - -----with a ------


Q: How many Orwellian thought police does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: None.... There never was any light bulb, don't you remember?


Q: How many Catholic Priests / C of E Vicars / Orthodox Rabbis (delete where applicable) does it take to change lightbulb?

A:  "Change? Change??”


Q: How many Vietnam war veterans does it take to change lightbulb?

A: "You don’t know? No you don't know - cos you weren't there, man!"


Q: How many modern artists? does it take to change lightbulb?

A: One to climb the giraffe and the other to fill the bath tub with brightly colored machine tools


Q: How many surrealists? does it take to change lightbulb?

A: A fish


Q: How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Whereas the party of the first part, also known as "Lawyer," and the party of the second part, also known as "Light Bulb," do hereby and forthwith agree…


Q: How many defence lawyers does it take to change lightbulb?

A: How many can you afford?


Q: How many psychoanalysts does it take to change lightbulb?...

A: Two: One to change the lightbulb and the other to hold the mother - er, penis - er, ladder!


Q: How many Microsoft engineers does it take to change a lightbulb? 

A: None. They just declare darkness the industry standard


Q: How many Zen Buddhists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Change must come from within.


Q: How many mice does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: Two, but don’t ask me how they got in there!


And on that subject…


Q How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A “I can't tell whether you mean 'change’ a light bulb or 'have sex’ in a light bulb. Can we reword it to remove the ambiguity?”


Q: How many mystery writers does it take to change lightbulb?

A: One to write the majority of it and the other to give it an unexpected twist at the end

(last two from:


Q:  How many poets does it take to change a light bulb? 


A:  None, fish are          through the       of my consciousness,

           and                          edges

           I          dark.

             like the

This last from the vast vaults of :

There's also more here and here, but by far the biggest selection I've come across on the web is on this site

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Oxford Comma... and friends

I first heard of the Oxford comma on one of Dogberry's posts at Inky Fool

Punctuation named after places? Whatever next? Apparently it's the comma that you could (but may choose not to) put before the 'and' in a sentence list. 

As an example, here's what Simon Says at Writers Bureau had to say on the subject:

"I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis and JK Rowling." suggests that this author is the love child of Martin Amis and JK Rowling! ...To clarify the sentence, we need to insert the Oxford comma, before the word 'and', like so: "I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis, and JK Rowling."

But why is it called the Oxford comma? And are there other geographically-related punctuation marks I should know about? 

The Papworth Colon - for colons which need to be removed forthwith

Stratford-upon-Avon Quotes - for extravagantly-phrased theatrical spouting

The Westward Ho! exclamation mark - to describe exclamation marks used for decorative effect (including a sub section for multiple exclamation marks at Christmas - or the Westward Ho! Ho! Ho!!!)

The St Martins Lane* Apostrophe - in response to the Grocer's Apostrophe, this is for apostrophes notable only by their absence.

The Wallasey Ellipsis - any ellipsis with the wrong number of dots, which disregard the laws of God and man (in Wallasey there are no less than three roundabouts where the usual rules do not apply)

I'm not sure who should get custody of the Question mark:

Watford? Hooton? Howarth? Wensleydale? Somewhere in the Wye Valley?... or perhaps Pendle – where the whiches come from?


If there are any punctuation marks associated with place names that any of you have made up know of, do tell!

* No one's too rich to need the occasional apostrophe

Related post: My 10 Punctuation Pet Hates

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Taking affront at a font

I've developed an aversion to serif fonts.

It's been coming on a while. But it's getting stronger. Every so often Word seems to forget my defaults and goes back to Times New Roman. I almost can't bear it any more.

They say a serif font's easier to read, more literary.  I particularly loathe the way some people print poems out in curly serif scripts you can barely read because 'it looks more poetic'. More poetic, my arse. If the words don't do it, don't make the font do it!

Some editors require your work in New Courier, which is even worse. They have their reasons - every letter is the same width, which is useful to them in ways we can not fully understand (or should I say, I cannot be arsed to research just now?).

But don't you think a nice sans-serif is much cleaner? It's rounder and more 'with it' in ways the expression 'with it' will never fully understand. Doesn't have to be Arial. Tahoma's nice too (oh, Tahoma!) and I use Trebuchet for this blog. I did go through a phase of doing everything in cheerful Comic Sans but it's generally considered to lack seriousness. (See right)

Two interesting facts about fonts:

1. Incidentally the word 'font' is from the same source as fondue  ('something which has been melted') after the casted molten metal typesets used to be made out of. 

2. According to Wikipedia (the 'font' of all knowledge) the reason sans-serif has become the font of choice on-line is because serif fonts can show twittering on the horizontal serifs. And that has nothing to do with Twitter!

So what is your font of choice, and how strongly do you feel?


Thursday, 21 October 2010

8 Tips for Getting Published

OK, so you write and you write but how do you get your writing published?

Last week I went to an excellent 'Meet the Authors' afternoon - my favourite event of Wirral Bookfest (amidst stiff competition - I also saw Carol Ann Duffy!).

The authors were: Caroline Smailes* whose first novel was snapped up after she posted part of it online and has had a steady presence in Kindle's Top 100. Her beautiful Like Bees to Honey is out now and third novel is in the pipeline; Jon Mayhew author of gothic teen fantasy Mortlock, part of a three-book deal with Bloomsbury; and the late Nik Perring (he's not dead - he was just late) whose neat collection of short stories Not So Perfect is out now. They are all local (i.e. Wirral) authors whose first books have come out in the last few years and who are active on the net.

So I thought I'd share some of their top tips to wannabe best-selling novelists:

1. Write. Obvious as it sounds, it's were some of us fall to the ground straight away. Learn this equation: No words = no best-selling novel. You need lots of words - preferably ones that carry on from one another. 300 first pages do not a best-selling novel make either. Write and keep writing - you can mess around with it later, just get a first draft written

2. Hone your craft. Attend courses, read up, use online resources and communities for writers. Learn all you can about writing. But don't do this instead of writing (see above) - it's an easy mistake to make.

3. Blocked? Don't panic! All the authors agreed that there will be days you don't want to write. Nik mentioned 'Writer's Constipation' but the others managed to steer us away from the truly scattalogical! Don't punish yourself staring at a blank page/screen. Do something else - go for a walk or something. Just make sure you write when you can.

4. Read your own work aloud. Nik (I think it was Nik) said he records himself reading his work then plays it back. You'll be surprised what you'll pick up if you do this - odd phrasing, over-used words, clumsy sentence structure, unbelievable dialogue. As nik said - especially with the short story it has to be as perfect as you can make it before you send it off.

5. Log-on. Work to develop an online following before you approach an agent or publisher. If you want to stand out from the 'slush pile' it really helps to show your understanding of the importance of promoting your work generally. A good blog also demonstrates your writing style and discipline.

6. Engage with new technology. Many authors are more tech-savvy than traditional publishers. Caroline Smailes has generated new excitement around her 3-year old book by getting it published on Kindle - and although it is sold at a low price, 12,000 of people have brought it and authors get a better cut from electronic publishing. eBooks are especially useful to authors of specialist non-fiction as they are low-cost and can be targetted to niche audiences internationally via the net.

7. Ask the experts. Jon Mayhew's turning point was a Literary Consultancy weekend - it was pricey and, at time, brutal, but it polished his novel and gained him introductions to the literary agent that found him his future publisher.

8. Break a leg! Or an ankle. No, really. Jon Mayhew attributes part of his success to having broken his ankle and using the ensuing enforced idleness to knuckle down and finish his book. It was such a successful technique that he broke it a second time for the edits! He wasn't recommending this, just saying that you need to grab your opportunities to write when you get the chance to.

Write! I'm off to do some now... after I've just checked my emails, updated my anti-virus software, fed the cat (and I don't even have a cat!)...

What are the best tips for getting published that YOU have used, or have been given?

* I have already corresponded with Caroline via Twitter and her blog - proving that social media enables you to go up to someone and say: 'But we're already friends! You have to talk to me!'  Caroline is even nicer in person than online.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

My 100th Post!

I thought I'd missed my 100th post. I was counting them from my 'edit posts' list, but that figure included draft notes of future posts. Doh!

So hurray for my 100th post! To celebrate, I'm going to take the 7 Link Challenge from ProBlogger.

My First Post: Where do ideas come from Mummy?  In which I suggest 'free writing' to extract weird stuff from your subconscious... hey, it works for me!  I had one comment...I was out there!

The Post I Enjoyed Writing the Most: I'm torn between two (1) Why are there so many songs about librarians? was great fun because I had put a call out on Twitter for spoof library songs and got some brilliant ones which I then did a post about, giggling all the way and (2) National Double Entendre Week for obvious reasons.

A Post With a Great Discussion: I couldn't choose one from here because I get such great comments on a regular basis, so I'm cheating a bit. I'm also one of the 'cooks' on the Fridge Soup blog and this went up there, although perhaps here is its rightful home: Dr Strangelove Actually - this was great fun because loads of people joined in. 

A Post I Wish I Had Written: 'How I made my first million'... oh, it has to be a real one from someone else! Gosh that's hard... [three hours later] This is where I wish I'd somehow bookmarked my faves as I'm sure there are ones I've forgotten... don't make me choooooooose! But I am especially envious of Fran's lists & literary rewrites in Being Me - like this one on 'cyber lit, Moptop's National Euphemism Week and #Banned lists. Oh and pretty well anything by the erudite Dogberry at The Inky Fool, a fine example of which is: Snarling Snobs and Sniggering Sneaks

A Post With a Title I'm Proud Of: This one, of course!

My Most Helpful Post: Probably Twitter - 7 Steps to Getting Started because I know a lot of people find Twitter as confusing as I did when I started out, but I do think I've got the hang of what it is and what it's for now

A Post I Wish More People Had Read: I'd have De-motivational Posters because no-one has ever commented but StatCounter it's one of my most often-viewed posts, but with random surfers not followers, because no-one had ever commented. So instead I'll say Making Headlines 

I've probably missed some cracking posts from you all, I'm keen for followers to take this challenge* or at least to leave a link in the comments to your best post or the one you wish more people had read.  Pleeeeeease... it is my 100th!

You know how to put a link in comments don't you? You just put your lips together and ... no, that was something else. Here's how: put the html code below into your normal comment - the parts between the <>brackets won't show but have to be exactly right.  Notice how I've spelled/spelt 'website' wrong deliberately to show you how easy it is to bugger this up - but have a go!:

*If you choose to do your own 7-link challenge, please do say so in the comments (and on  ProBlogger comments too!)

Friday, 15 October 2010


Something I learned when I worked in Public Relations (and which is also a matter of common sense) is often ignored or forgotten by graphic designers - beware of capitals!

Capitals or Upper Case if you want to be snobby - or majuscules* if you want to get all technical - help us to signify new sentences, denote proper names (as opposed to improper names e.g. 'you arse!') and attach importance or emphasis. These are some of the benefits of not having a unicase language, or being German, where random capitalisation appears to occur. 

(Of course, you can also attach importance or emphasis using other devices e.g. italic, bold, underlining or size or a big red felt pen.)




Even before the use of capitals became synonymous with 'shouting' in emails, texts and social networks they were BAD and WRONG.


1. Because it is much more difficult to take in blocks of text that are all exactly the same height. We need those ascenders and descenders to speed up word recognition, which is done by shapes and patterns as much as anything else. UPPER CASE kills - don't believe me? Read Capital Offenders

2. Because IF YOU emphasize everything, you EMPHASISE NOTHING

I'll finish with a little ditty from Roger McGough:

but now I'm sadly lower case
with the occasional italic

* The lower case letters are called miniscules even when they're not as small as this

Related posts: 10 Punctuation Pet Hates    and     Freeze! It's the Grammar Police

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Write around the world

This is me with the whole world in my hands.

On this day two years ago today me and my best friend set off on our Big Adventure - to backpack around the world for 9 months -a trip that began in Bangkok, took us on a whistle-stop spin through SE Asia, campervan tour of Australia, motoring around New Zealand, a (slightly traumatic) stop in Fiji, then on to Chile (which I'm watching on the news as I write - such moving pictures from the San Jose mine), Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

I haven't mentioned it much here because (a) it souns a bit like gloating) and (b) this isn't a travel blog - if it was I'd have a lot more to say on the subject. I'm even considering starting an additional travel blog like my new chum L'Aussie... but how could I fit it all in?

As I always used to say: 'It's a small world - but I wouldn't like to hoover it.'  

But I was wrong. It's effing ENORMOUS!

So from time to time over the next 9 months I may drop a little travel tidbit into the mix here, just to share some amazing pictures and experiences - hope regular readers are ok with that?

Meanwhile, here's a taster...

Friday, 1 October 2010

Look who's stalking!

Anyway. Like I said at the end of this post, I know exactly where my ex-husband is. The only reason I know this is that, after no sightings for fifteen years, he just started following me on Twitter. 

If there's one thing the worldwide web is brilliant for - it allows a person to stalk their ex from the comfort of their own home. (I've always said I was too lazy to be a stalker - they'd have to come round here.)  They don't have to lurk around Liscard precinct and harangue people any more, or accost people's perfectly innocent colleagues in the toilets at parties. 

So I started following him back.

"A warm welcome to my new followers. Glad to know your [sic] following my work." He tweeted, not to me but in general - there have been no tweets between us. 

The only other contact in those intervening years is when he made this comment out of the blue on this video of me on YouTube : 'God, she'd put weight on since I was married to her, and she isn't any funnier.' I'll come back to this in a minute. (Oh, and when his sister emailed me to threaten legal action when I described him as a tosser on my website... although, in my defence, his hobby is bus-spotting.)

If you think about it, following me on Twitter was a rash move on his part. He is a public figure of sorts (hence the email from his sister, I suppose) and raising your head above the parapets of cyberspace gives your enemies a powerful weapon against you. An intelligent, creative person with experience in PR (for example) and an ax to grind could do a lot of damage to someone in his position.

We have a tendency to demonise the other party when relationships turn out badly and I hold up my hands here. But if your ex is a demon, then by default your original judgement was flawed - you chose a demon (or allowed them to choose you) - and hence you can no longer trust your own judgement. This doesn't help anyone - it exacerbates damage already sustained and tarnishes future relationships. Hate is an almost entirely terrible thing and it harms the hater more than the hatee.

But you know what? He wasn't a demon. I take these little glimpses into his life now, and recognise certain things about him: he has found a place in the world where he is doing some good, harnessing that strong desire he always had (but did not always listen to) to be the hero and turning his energies towards actually help people. 

So if you're reading this, don't worry. I'm not going to name, shame, blame or play games. But can I just say that if I've put weight on I'd just like to point out...

Before (left)

...and after (right).

That's all I have to say on the subject.