Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Guest blogger of the month - Elizabeth Hawksley

Elizabeth Hawksley is well known to historical romance fans in the UK for her absorbing novels, such as Frost Fair, which was shortlisted for the Elizabeth Goudge Award. Set in the winter of 1814, when it was so cold that the River Thames froze solid, Frost Fair tells the story of sixteen-year-old Emilia Daniels, who elopes with a charming ne'er-do-well, Stephen Kirkwall, unaware that he is in debt to the sinister Balquidder. Balquidder has an eye on the fortune Emilia will inherit when she is twenty-five, and will stop at nothing to get it.

Crossing the Tamar is set in Cornwall in 1808 and is a story about smuggling with a difference, beause the smuggler is a woman. Dorothea, about to lose everything, is planning the next Selwood smuggling venture when the new heir, the Reverend Selwood, a religious don with very rigid notions of propriety, enters the scene.

Elizabeth's new book will delight a lot of people, because she's taken the time - with co-author Jenny Haddon - to write a clear, simple book on punctuation. It's illustrated with humorous illustrations and will be welcomed by writers, students and anyone with an interest in the English language.

With a degree in English and American Studies from the University of Sussex; a PGCE from the Institute of Education, University of London; and an MA in Victorian Studies (with Distinction) from Birkbeck, Elizabeth has taught both English and Creative Writing and so she is an ideal person to write the book.

Her co-author, Jenny Haddontook a degree in English at Oxford and then worked for the Bank of England, primarily as a bank regulator responsible for overseas banks. Throughout her life she has written novels, sometimes as Sophie Weston and is published in 24 languages.

Elizabeth says:
We've all seen the headlines shrieking 'Punctuation in Peril' but it was Lucy, one of my bright A level students, who brought it home to me. 'You mean there are rules for commas? I thought you just sprinkled them about like black pepper on pizza.' Er, no, Lucy.
Later, the class passed their stories round for reading out loud and there was a surreal moment when Ben's neighbour read out, 'That will wake the dead professor.'
We all blinked. Had his campus romp suddenly turned into a ghost story?
'No,' said Ben, grabbing back his pages, 'I meant, "That will wake the dead, Professor."'
Then Ant, a keen Creative Writing student, said, 'What is a paragraph?'
They were hungry for help.
So Jenny and I mulled it over and thought about Delia Smith: this is an egg; this is what happens when you boil it. To keep it soft, you take it off after four minutes, to make it hard enough to take on a picnic . . . . That's what these students needed for punctuation. So that's what we wrote.

Jenny Haddon adds:
Maddy, a trainee teacher rang me in a panic. She had bought Eats, Shoots and Leaves to sort out her punctuation for class. 'It's only made things worse,' she wailed. 'There's even more to go wrong than I thought!'
Lynne Truss herself, of course, warns right from the start that her book 'doesn't instruct about punctuation'. It's great fun - but it sure as heck makes people jumpy!
'Think about why you punctuate,' I suggested. 'It's the written equivalent of waving your hands about. Your punctuation shows the reader how you would have spoken, if you were talking face to face. '
That got rid of the panic. After that, she found that the rules were relatively easy.
When you are in the same room with someone, they can ask you questions or make you repeat something if they don't understand first time. They can't ask questions of a book or report. So writing is a one shot game. If the reader doesn't understand, he (or she) will probably give up. Punctuate clearly and don't lose them!

Elizabeth continues: The rules are all there but the book has other things going for it as well. I think readers will be amused by the stories we use as examples - and Belinda Bubblewit, the (unpublished) romantic novelist whose Love and Lucasta's Lord demonstrates all too clearly What Not To Do.
We've highlighted common mistakes, too. So if you use the book for quick reference, it is easy to see if you've got it right and, if not, how to correct it.

To which Jenny adds:
It's practical but not dogmatic. We explain why punctuation works the way it does, instead of laying down arbitrary rules.
That's why we put together the Learner Driver's Guide, which compares punctuation marks to braking distances. It's easy to grasp and it helps you choose the punctuation marks which will make your meaning clear.
For the same reason, we've put together an example of how to organise ideas into logical order and divide them into paragraphs in our Train to Edinburgh. We think that will be equally useful to students and people in business, in fact anyone who has to write essays, formal reports or business letters.

1 comment:

Melinda Hammond said...

Welcome to the blog, Elizabeth, I really enjoy your books, a nice mix of historical romance and adventure.

Good luck with this latest venture, Elizabeth and Jenny: I think we all have our wobbly moments when it comes to punctuation. But you are right, one shouldn't panic. After all, it's only comma sense.......