Five easy steps to remember for writing in a plain language style.
by Suzanne Purkis
You probably don’t know this, but I’m a member of Plain Language Association International. Plain language is all about clear communication. It’s a way of writing and presenting information that makes it easy for readers to understand.
In our globally connected world, accessible language and clear communication are more important than ever. So today, I’d like to tell you a bit about the basics of plain language.
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The cranes hovering above a few of the eighteen towers of the Sagrada Familia tell the never-ending story of Barcelona’s unique cathedral.
First conceived in 1866 and continued by Gaudi in 1883, the building is as ornate on the outside as Rosslyn chapel near Edinburgh is on the inside.
As for the interior I can only imagine the wonders within as an endless queue of visitors snakes around the cathedral in concentric coils from dawn to dusk.
It is possible to speed up the entry process by purchasing a timed ticket in advance but there are many more inspiring sights to see in this mind-blowing city.
It took me all afternoon to absorb the sculpted walls, pillars and ceilings of tiny Rosslyn so I could be missing for a whole week if I were to enter the portals of the Sagrada Familia.
Whilst researching the myth of the Tower of Babel I came across Barnarby Barford’s recreation of the tower using 3000 miniature bone china shops for a sculptural installation at London’s V&A museum in 2015.
Barford’s Tower invites visitors to consider the consequences on society of modern consumer habits. My own version consists of expanding my knowledge of languages in preparation for a future European road trip.
The original tower or ziggurat in the town of Babylon was said to consist of 7 tiers which corresponded to the 7 spheres. At the time of its construction people all spoke the one language. As a result of its destruction they began to speak in many different tongues.
Several world myths tell of towers or holy mountains which have either been destroyed by God or eroded by wind and rain. The result is always a confusion of sounds that form an incomprehensible babble.
I hope to be able to make myself better understood on my travels by building on languages learnt at school and university to create a tower of useful words and phrases in: French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.
A tower which could end up disintegrating into gobbledygook if I’m not careful. If only Esperanto had been more popular or we were all taught to speak the same second language!
I found this photo of the bell tower on the viewing platform at the top of Mount Lycabettos whilst trawling through my digital archives for one of the Tower of the Winds.
The creation of Mount Lycabettos, according to myth, was as accidental as the finding of this photo. The story is that the goddess Athena was carrying a rock over to the Acropolis where she was building her temple when bad news from a crow caused her to drop it.
The name Lycabettos is locally translated as ‘the path of the wolves’ which used to roam the plains of Attica that can be seen stretching into the distance. The hill itself is 300m above sea level and is visible from many parts of the Greek capital.
The viewing platform, bell tower, church of St. George, theatre and restaurant on the top can be reached either by walking up the zigzag path from Aristippou Street or by taking the funicular up the inside of the limestone hill from Ploutarchou Street.
We arrived before opening time one hot sunny morning a few years ago. What is missing from this photo are the red clouds that arrived just after coffee bearing dust from the Sahara.
As we descended the hill it started to rain blood red. That was when I understood how people in ancient times considered such clouds to be a bad omen.
While you are reading this post I will have taken advantage of WordPress’s scheduling feature to become a time traveller and make a return trip to the Tower of the Winds in Athens.
The Tower of the Winds is an octagonal structure built in 50BC by the Macedonian astronomer Andronicus. It functions as a compass, sundial, weather vane and water clock (said to be powered by an underground spring) and is carved with the faces of the 8 winds:
These are the classical winds which used to be shown on old city maps.
The reason for my return is to revisit the Acropolis, the location of my engagement to Ian over 30 years ago, and to take photographs of the key sites which hold meaning for us. Unlike the Tower of the Winds, our original copies appear to have disappeared over time.
The Tower is one of the less well known landmarks which I remember for its colour (burnt orange according to my memory) and proximity to the narrow street which houses a reconstructed Roman Bathhouse. Well worth a visit and signposted from the Tower.
Towers are the focus of my new writing project, and what better place to start than with the phenomenon of Tower Building as photographed on the North shore of Holy Island in Northumberland, a county close to my heart.
Over the past few years I have seen these rock art forms grow into a miniature cityscape as more and more visitors have built their own creative designs along the beach front.
On our last visit Ian captured some of the towers on camera while I searched for a suitable stone to balance on top of a six-tiered cairn. I selected a rose coloured one, the same shade as the ruined priory walls.
The towers depicted above appear to reflect the 16th century castle and can be found just past the old lime kilns, but there are many other stone sculptures along the shoreline.
Should you wish to brave the elements and cross the causeway to this island, also known as Lindisfarne, remember to take note of the safe crossing times which can be found on: www.northumberland.gov.uk
Publishing Poetry is the title of a book that caught my eye on my last visit to Richmond library. Ever one to learn something new I borrowed it without even realising that it was by Kenneth Steven whose poetry collection A Song Among The Stones is one of my favourite poetry reads.
The latter was the inspiration behind the structure of my last three collections for which I coined the term ‘fantasy poetry.’ The third one, based on the theme of sanctuary, is finally finished and the poems organised under the title of A Chaos of Delight.
During the past few weeks I have been mulling over whether to pursue publishing the collection online or in print, or even explore both avenues. Then I came across the following thoughts from Kenneth Stevens in his book Publishing Poetry:
‘ … poems should be a by-product of living. Writing and crafting a poem of which you’re proud is something in and of itself; if it happens to be published, that’s worth celebrating, but it’s the poem and what it stands for that matters more than anything. Do all you can to get published; work as hard a s possible to market your book – but don’t ever forget to love searching for words: the best words, in the best order.’ (Need2Know: 2010)
So, with ‘the best words, in the best order’ as my mantra, I have sent a few poems out to prospective publishers, put the collection aside for the time being to simmer for a while longer, and embarked on my next project on the theme of towers.
I started this series of posts with reference to weaving random words from the dictionary into a new piece of writing. Over the past few weeks I have commented on books which I have been reading to expand my knowledge and ideas.
To quote Philip Pullman’s acknowledgements page at the end of The Amber Spyglass (Scholastic: 2000), ‘I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read. My principle in researching for a novel is “Read like a butterfly, write like a bee”‘.
Whilst reading like a butterfly I recently came across Orkney by Amy Sackville (Granta: 2014), a book praised for the power of its prose, which is written with sea rhythms reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.
Not only does the novel draw on old stories, myths and fairy-tales to make a modern tale set in an island landscape, it is also the first book in many moons that has had me reaching for the dictionary.
I now know the meaning of such words as ‘cinerous’, ‘sedulous’ and ‘etiolated’, and was reminded of the importance of making every word count, not only in poetry but also in prose.
Five useful tips for making your characters distinct.
by Roz Morris
I’ve been asked this question twice recently–in a conversation on G+ and by a student at my Guardian masterclass the other week. In both cases, the writers had encouraging feedback from agents, but one crucial criticism: the characters all seemed too similar. And probably this wasn’t surprising because of their story scenarios.
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