All hail apostrophes – the heavy lifters who ‘point a sentence in the right direction’



Doing away with the apostrophe is not just the beginning of the end … it’s the end.
www.shutterstock.com

Roslyn Petelin, The University of Queensland

Reports this week about the demise of the Apostrophe Protection Society may have been greatly exaggerated.

The Apostrophe Protection Society was set up in 2001 in the UK by retired journalist John Richards with the aim of “preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark in all forms of text written in the English Language”.

When I read that Richards had capitulated to the “ignorance and laziness” of those who wrongly used apostrophes, I toyed with the idea of resurrecting the society in Australia.

There may be no need. A six-fold increase in traffic to the website after the story broke caused the society’s webmaster to close the site down. He has promised to return the archive in the new year. Its survival is important. The apostrophe isn’t all that tricky to get your head around – and doing away with it won’t make language simpler.

Though many get it wrong, others’ contractions are so right.
Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash, CC BY

Its – not it’s – big impact

British newspaper writer Harry Mount once wrote: “missing apostrophes is just ignorant and lazy”. He praised “the device that does so much with so little ink to point a sentence in the right direction”.

Richards’s desire to expel the intrusive greengrocer’s apostrophe (all those mango’s and tomato’s on special discount) mirrors that of Keith Waterhouse, the English columnist renowned as the author of classic comedy novel Billy Liar (1959) and Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell – a 1989 play about the musings of a London journalist and alcoholic who is locked overnight in The Coach & Horses Soho pub.

Waterhouse was the self-appointed life president of the (fictional) Association for the Annihilation (also Abolition) of the Aberrant Apostrophe and claimed to have an apostrophe incinerator in his back garden for superfluous apostrophes. His attendant goal was to redistribute ill-placed apostrophes to their rightful location.

Closer to home, the ABC’s Tiger Webb has previously dismissed the apostrophe. And
I have responded with an argument for its preservation (with many fine examples).

We need apostrophes in the right places in examples such as this: “She’d wed him in a shed if we’d agree to it” when letters are left out. And for possession: the “ant’s pants” or the “ants’ pants” and likewise the “bee’s knees” or the “bees’ knees”.

Writers’ rules for writers

Driving along William Street in the Brisbane CBD in 1990, I was horrified to notice painters putting the finishing touches to the signage for the about-to-be-opened Queensland Writers’ Centre. It was without an apostrophe. A phone call to the committee soon corrected that oversight and the apostrophe was used for a while, though the battle was lost in later years.

It’s now known as the Queensland Writers Centre and it hosts the Brisbane Writers Festival each year.

The writers’ festivals held in Byron Bay, Canberra, Melbourne, Hobart, and Wollongong are also sans apostrophe. Their respective management committees must have reached an agreement that the word “writers” is used in a descriptive or affiliative sense rather than as a possessive adjective. Thank goodness the committees of the writers’ festivals held in Sydney, Adelaide, the Northern Territory, and the Outback held out.

Possession in place names has caused controversy in the UK and here.

The UK’s National Land and Property Gazetteer, which registers street names, doesn’t require apostrophes in new names, but the rule doesn’t apply to existing signs. Devon and Birmingham unilaterally disposed of the possessive in in all street and road signs in 2009, though the Devon council backtracked shortly after.

In the UK, many places have done away with apostrophes on signs.
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South Australia has removed all apostrophes in place names. The policy of the NSW Geographic Names Board is to have no apostrophe in place names with a final “s”.

The Australian government’s Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers lists guidelines for other states and the Northern Territory. It’s worth noting the last printed edition of this manual was produced in 2002. A new digital guide to government-endorsed grammar has been promised. At the time it was announced, the digital manual’s product manager imagined a time when:

Clear written communication would be valued and personal preference wouldn’t be an option because there’d be one credible ‘source of truth’ that stated the rules and provided the evidence for why.

Statements like this bode well for its future, though “rules” about language aren’t always black or white. The guide is now in its Beta version and set for release in 2020.

Don’t get it twisted

Within the ranks of those who do subscribe to the possessive apostrophe, I can count on Richard Nordquist for his authoritative guidance and The Chicago Manual of Style for support.

Perhaps the most contentious apostrophe point is how to make singular words ending in “s” possessive. Is it “Dickens’ novels” or “Dickens’s novels”?

The Chicago Manual of Style advocates the extra “s” alternative in all cases, as do I. Even in cases such as “Descartes’s dicta” and “Euripides’s tragedies”.

Only use the contraction ‘it’s’ if it can be replaced by ‘it is’ or ‘it has’.

It is heartening to read related news that, whether or not John Richards’s apostrophe work continues, he might consider a campaign to save the comma from a similar fate.

“The use of the comma is appalling,” he told the BBC. “When I read some newspaper websites they just don’t understand what it is used for.”

This man, a punctuation champion in his 90s, is indomitable.The Conversation

Roslyn Petelin, Course coordinator, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Humour, justice, belonging, danger, and wonder: 5 story senses and the art of writing for children



Want to capture the heart and mind of a young reader? The five story senses will set you on the right path.
iam Se7en/Unsplash, CC BY

Sean Williams, Flinders University

At the heart of every adult writer lies a novel they adored as a child. No wonder then so many try to write for kids themselves. So why do they often fail?

Perhaps it’s because, on the whole, adults are taught to write for adults, utilising the full power of the five regular senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell – to evoke meaning in even the most trivial of everyday events.

This approach is less successful with younger readers, for one very simple reason: there are five other senses that speak more potently to them.

Consciously or unconsciously, successful writers use these other senses to hook young readers (and open their parents’ wallets) in ways that seem almost magical.

It’s not magical at all, though.

Here are the five story senses guaranteed to stir a child’s literary heart.

1. Humour

Everyone with kids in their lives knows the horror of a joke compendium: the same old gags we learned in childhood, repeated over and over, quickly lose appeal.

The only thing worse would be forcing kids to stop telling them.

Humour is the key to anyone’s heart.
Ben White/Unsplash, CC BY

It is easy to forget jokes are hilarious the first time around, and funny doesn’t mean trivial. Humourist Terry Pratchett understood a reader can learn just as much from a book that provokes a laugh as from one that doesn’t – and he was the bestselling UK author until J K Rowling came along.

Make a kid laugh and they’ll be a fan forever.

2. Justice

People develop a sense of fairness at a very early age, some studies suggesting it kicks in as early as 12 months. Who doesn’t love seeing justice done? For this reason, crime fiction is one of the biggest genres in the world – and kids are no different to adult readers.




Read more:
Young morals: can infants tell right from wrong?


Few people would seriously suggest a sense of justice should be drummed out of children, but it can definitely be quashed when parental authority is under assault. Kids therefore are constantly on the pointy end of injustice, or feel they are.

This is why Rowling takes Harry back to the despicable Dursleys at the end of every book. Exploiting the sense of justice ensures her readers never lose interest.

3. Belonging

The one genre bigger than crime is romance.

While not all kids will be into romantic love (The Princess Bride notwithstanding), they will have a keen sense of belonging. They have friends, family and pets in their lives, and stories engaging this sense helps them navigate these relationships, particularly when loss or denial is involved.

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer remains a classic because, beneath everything else, it is a story about a young boy finding his place in the world, and in people’s hearts.

4. Danger

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer also contains scenes of terrible peril, as does Doctor Who. Children love to be scared by fictional stories because in life, alas, many find themselves in very real peril. Fiction gives kids a safe way to activate their sense of danger, and maybe learn a life-saving strategy or two, as well.

Fiction is a safe way for children to explore danger.
Anuja Mary Tilj/Unsplash, CC BY

The sense of danger is so fundamental to our psyche that it might actually be hardwired into us: the Moro, or “startle”, reflex is innate in healthy newborns.

There are limits, of course, but no one ever ever lost a young audience by trying to push them. (Parents are a different matter.)

5. Wonder

Everyone will have some of these senses, but some people won’t have all of them. This sense, my personal favourite, is very hard to explain to someone who doesn’t possess it. It is the engine that drives fantasy and science fiction. When something makes a reader go “wow”, their sense of wonder has been engaged.

Kids understand this sense very well, because everything to them is big and new: just note how many synonyms they have for “awesome”. While it too may be drummed out of young people as they age, it can be revived under particular circumstances. Reading JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has been one for many avid readers.

It is easy to forget The Hobbit predated this work, and, although no less awe-some, it was originally created for children.

These senses are just the start

Hefty doses of humour, justice, belonging, danger, and wonder will go some way towards compensating for deficiencies in other aspects of the writing craft. Children, and many adults, will often choose a good story badly written over a well-made dud.

This formula will also work for other media. Take Star Wars and Avengers movies, for example: both rich in the five story senses, and both part of the Disney stable, home to many other examples.

Any author wanting to pen a bestseller could do worse than start here. As always, though, there is no substitute for hard work – and luck.The Conversation

Sean Williams, Lecturer, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Like volcanoes on the ranges’: how Australian bushfire writing has changed with the climate


Grace Moore, University of Otago

Bushfire writing has long been a part of Australian literature.

Tales of heroic rescues and bush Christmases describe a time when the fire season was confined only to summer months and Australia’s battler identity was forged in the flames.

While some of these early stories may seem melodramatic to the modern reader, they offer vital insights into the scale and timing of fires and provide an important counterpoint to suggestions from some politicians this week that Australia’s fire ecology remains unchanged in the 21st century.




Read more:
Mr Morrison, I lost my home to bushfire. Your thoughts and prayers are not enough


After an apparent bushfire, a horse team pulls timber at Lavers Hill in Victoria, circa 1895.
Museum Victoria/NLA

A contender for the first fictional representation of an Australian bushfire is Mary Theresa Vidal’s The Cabramatta Store (1850). Although she does not specify a month, Vidal is very clear regarding the season and the oppressive, sweltering heat:

It was one of the hottest days of an unusually hot and dry Australian summer. No breeze stirred the thin, spare foliage of the gum-trees, or moved the thick grove of wattles which grew at the back of a rough log hut.

Vidal’s account of the bushfire that ensues is evocative and intense:

The tall trees were some of them red hot to the top; the fire seemed to run apace, and every leaf and stack was so dry there was nothing to impede its progress.

Postcards from Australia


Cambridge University Press

Vidal was not alone in treating fire as a fleeting, one-off incident. Other early accounts, such as Ellen Clacy’s 1854 romance story A Bushfire, or the prolific novelist William Howitt’s A Boy’s Adventures in the Wilds of Australia of the same year follow Vidal in depicting the bushfire as an isolated catastrophe.

Howitt’s novel takes the form of a notebook kept by Herbert, a recent young migrant, who recounts the wonder of his new life in the Bush. Though he doesn’t experience a fire at first-hand, Herbert regales the reader with another family’s bushfire adventure in lieu of his own. Yet in closing his account, dated January 14, he writes:

I wonder whether, after all, I shall see a bush-fire. During the last week we have seen lurid smoke by day, and a deep-red cloud by night … immense fires are raging in the jungle.

For Herbert, surviving a bushfire is a settler rite of passage and again, the dating of his entry emphasises the fire as a uniquely summer concern. The boyish narrator, though, cannot appreciate the trauma and severity of Antipodean fire.

An annual event

Over time, the settler community began to understand fire as a recurring phenomenon and the tone of fire stories shifted from a triumphant celebration of settler endurance, to a more brooding acceptance that the flames would return another year.


Dymocks

So season-bound was this understanding, a sub-genre of bushfire fiction emerged: the Christmas fire story. These works responded to the Victorian enthusiasm for yuletide tales, while at the same time highlighting the often horrific seasonal tribulations of bush-dwellers.

While there are many examples of Christmas fire stories, one of the best-known is Anthony Trollope’s novella Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1874).

The plot, which takes place in the sugar-growing region of Queensland, revolves around the protagonist Harry’s deep fear of fire. Trollope highlights the hostility of the climate, the dangers posed by deforestation, and the deep-rooted anxieties that haunted migrant farmers each summer.

Exotic and dangerous tales from Australia – these images were published in The Australasian sketcher, April 9, 1884 – depicted life for settlers and visitors to those back in England.
Troedel & Co, lithographer/State Library of Victoria

There are countless other works that allow us to map the Victorian era fire season.

Henry Kingsley’s sprawling 1859 novel The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn begins with another date reference:

Near the end of February 1857 … it was near the latter end of summer, burning hot, with the bushfires raging like volcanoes on the ranges, and the river reduced to a slender stream of water.

Once again here, the date identifies fires specifically with the summertime.

Climate emergency fiction

While 19th century fire stories offer a date-stamped and clearly defined fire season, today’s novelists work with a much less predictable set of environmental conditions.

The backdrops for the crime novelist Jane Harper’s thrillers The Dry (2016) and The Lost Man (2018) are tinder-dry rural communities, where years of drought mean fire could erupt at any moment.

Realist writing is capturing changing conditions, just as it did for settlers more than 150 years ago. Australia may always have been the “continent of fire”, as historian Tom Griffiths terms it, but literature shows us those fires are more prolific and less predictable now than ever before.The Conversation

Grace Moore, Senior lecturer in English, the University of Otago, New Zealand, University of Otago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Woke to the past, Shaun Prescott’s The Town moves beyond colonialism and then its protagonist



In The Town, inhabitants don’t notice the place disappearing around them.
Greg Brave/Shutterstock

Bonny Cassidy, RMIT University

Why do we tell stories, and how are they crafted? In this series, we unpick the work of the writer on both page and screen.

From Patrick White’s Voss to Tim Winton’s Breath, white, male Australian novelists have reproduced the hero character through sexualised conquests of other bodies and spaces.

To limited levels of success, debut novelist Shaun Prescott explores alternatives to this tradition in The Town.

Women and nature to conquer

Voss, an anti-hero, virtually penetrates his immaculate lover, Laura, through telepathy; just as his journey into the “dead heart” of the country is both invasive and seemingly invisible.

Winton’s Pike looks back on a life defined by his own climactic physical drives towards the ocean and women. Despite rarely making sexual references, even Gerald Murnane’s narratives often employ traditional fantasies of women who, similar to his grassy horizons, are distant and mirage-like.

Though not without self-awareness, these stories repeat gendered male quests in which women and nature are analogous. They also reflect colonial visions of unpeopled landscapes for the taking.

Inspiring a new response

Written in the era of the Stella Count – a survey of newspapers, journals and magazines to gauge gender bias in Australian book reviews – Prescott’s The Town joins recent debuts by his peers, Jack Cox’s Dodge Rose (2016) and Tom Lee’s Coach Fitz (2018), in attempting to respond to a moment of intensified feminist and anti-colonial activism.

These novels follow the great renaissance of First Nations fiction led by Alexis Wright, Kim Scott and Melissa Lucashenko. They appear alongside culturally and sexually diverse settler stories by male authors like Omar Musa and Peter Polites. As a corollary to social change, the future of the white, heterosexual male character in Australian writing will undergo revision.

Murnane’s influence on The Town manifests in Prescott’s minute attention to Australian regionalism. It’s also there in Prescott’s reduction of that locality to abstractions, his narrator speculating:

If there’s a town in the countryside where I belong, it might already be hidden by some impenetrable shimmer.

Parochial dystopia

It’s David Ireland, though, who emerges as the most productive influence on Prescott. The latter may be continuing Ireland’s quite radical subversion of Australian gender images.

woman of the future.

Ireland’s novels, including A Woman of the Future (1979) and City of Women (1981), probe the edges of realism and project into dystopian or surreal futures, just as Prescott does in The Town. Like Ireland, Prescott creates a magical realist world of parochial plausibility.

Prescott’s unnamed narrator is attempting to write a book on disappearing Australian towns, when the one he has chosen to research begins to dissolve into blank gaps and holes. This happens both metaphorically, as plazas and supermarkets take over town precincts, and literally as a source of mild terror. It’s all relayed with a bemused, laconic tone of narration:

The shops in the main streets were all closing. Dust set in thickly, brochures and mail littered stoops, and signs lost their colour beneath the gloom of rusted awnings. These losses did not register with the townspeople: they wandered the air-conditioned plazas, entering and exiting via escalators from dark undercover car parks.

Not driven by desire

Prescott ups the ante when it comes to plot. His narrator is searching for purpose. He has no outwardly directed sexual drive and where attraction looks like it could become a motivation, it proves a red herring.

The narrator strikes up a rapport with his housemate’s girlfriend, Ciara, who becomes an ally. While she leaves her boyfriend and joins him on the road, the journey is neither romantic nor sexually tense. They are useful to one another. Her help makes the narrator feel “unqualified to speak”.

By reconstructing character conventions, Prescott flouts a heterosexual questing plot. Instead of sex, his narrator seeks food and drink, an austerely documented yet solo pastime.

Touching on the right to speak at the heart of anti-patriarchal and anti-colonial representations, the narrator’s cultural voice – his manuscript – peters out. A remnant sense of conservative responsibility compels him salvage what he can of the town’s disappearing culture. Ultimately, he comes to reject the goal as foolish and vain.

Alone in a crowd

The narrator ends up in Sydney, living in a car. Anonymity, incoherence and lost community define his experience of the city. Alone in the crowd, he observes an Anzac parade, a fleeting celebration of “unanimous sadness”. He concludes that collective cultural identity is a temporary truth. The man in the landscape, once silently independent, is now confused, homeless and deferential.

The narrator ultimately gives up on documenting the demise of the town.
Shutterstock

This is where the frame of the novel buckles. Prescott’s narrator must speak – a lot, and to us – so he remains our interpreter of the world. While he relinquishes anthropological detachment, he also encourages himself to let go of the town as a subject to be recorded.

The novel’s protagonist exceeds its fictive device. This leaves Prescott in a tricky spot; The Town is, after all, the promised manuscript about disappearing towns. Prescott doesn’t scramble his protagonist’s world or morality as Ireland does, but ends the narration of his own cultural theory.

Structurally, The Town outstays its plot, becoming circular and monotonous. The narrative veil over Prescott’s own voice can feel like an unnecessary smokescreen when his ideas might, after all, have reached greater depths in the form of an essay.

To speak or not to speak; Prescott seems undecided. We watch as a white Australian male writes himself a marginal relationship to the continent.The Conversation

Bonny Cassidy, Lecturer in Creative Writing, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘I’m in another world’: writing without rules lets kids find their voice, just like professional authors



When children write freely, they say they escape from everyday thinking.
from shutterstock.com

Brett Healey, Curtin University

Ask a child why they write and you might receive a common response: the teacher told me to. Kids often lack confidence as writers and find it emotionally draining. The problem might be the classroom and its detachment from what writers do in the real world.

In some classrooms, students learn writing techniques and then apply them to a writing assignment. In others, students are given freedom over their writing with little teacher intervention.

Authors spend a lot of time writing freely.
Julia Joppien/Unsplash

Both approaches work to develop the writing craft, for similar reasons they work for authors. Authors learn discrete techniques from mentors to improve their skills and also write freely to experiment with style.

Teachers have a lot of influence over their classroom writing environment. But, while most identify as proficient readers, not many know what it’s like to be a writer.

Studies show teachers who identify as writers have a positive impact on their students’ writing. This is because they empathise with the experiences of writers at different stages of the writing process.

I conducted a study to help teachers understand what the creative writing experience is like for the students they teach. I interviewed eight children in Year 6 (10-11 years old) throughout a creative writing unit in class to find out.

Another world

When children write freely, they often feel as though they’re stepping into a different world. All kids I spoke to talked about this experience, with one student summarising it this way:

I feel like I’m in that place, another world, another zone. So I go into that place where I’m writing. I take my characters there, this large meadow or something. When I come back I’m like, where’s the meadow gone?

Most feel as though writing is a momentary “escape from your everyday thinking”. One student felt they don’t need to think very hard, because “my head is creating that and not me”.

Where’s the meadow gone?
from shutterstock.com

This other-world experience is like watching a movie in vivid detail. Ideas “come out of the blue” and “pop in and out like a slideshow”. One student said ideas “flow into words like water, through your brain and onto your page”.

Published authors have a similar experience. In Writing Down the Bones, a book on the writing process, author Natalie Goldberg writes:

Of course, you can sit down and have something you want to say. But then you must let its expression be born in you and on the paper. Don’t hold too tight; allow it to come out how it needs to rather than trying to control it.

My thoughts have been caged up

All students I spoke to talked about the frustration of being pulled out of this other world. One student recounted moments when he thought his writing ideas did not meet the task set by his teacher:

My mind is stuck inside, like, a perfect writing thing. It’s like all those sections where all my thoughts have been […] have to be caged up.

All caged up.
from shutterstock.com

For these children, it is impossible to be a student and a writer at the same time. Being a student means maintaining awareness of task requirements, grade-level standards and rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Addressing school requirements made one student feel as though they “need to put away good ideas, and think of what would give me an A”. Another said doing this means they “can’t let my brain fly” and “can’t add my own words”.

This leads to “so many mental blanks because I’m afraid I’m gonna fail”.

Balancing the student and the writer

Most students I spoke to expressed being frustrated when free writing time gets interrupted.

A progressive view of teaching suggests teachers allow children to explore their writing world, encouraging them to make decisions at each stage of the writing process. This is called the process approach to writing and it helps kids develop their writer identities.

A traditional view favours providing students with fundamental writing skills aimed at developing a finished product, known as the product approach. This develops kids’ knowledge of texts.

But are writing identities and knowledge mutually exclusive?

The students I spoke with understood the need to learn explicit knowledge such as text structures, vocabulary and literary techniques to grow as writers. But they did not think of these things when writing freely.

Even Hemingway admitted to bad first drafts.
Sergey Zolkin/Unsplash

Authors think more about these things, but not necessarily in the first instance. Ernest Hemingway is famously known to have said: “the first draft of anything is shit”. And Anne Lamott advised:

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.

We can teach kids to think more like authors.

The solution may be in striking a balance between kids as students and kids as writers. Kids, like published authors, need space to write freely first without distraction from teachers and expectations. This helps them generate ideas, motivating them to find a purpose for their writing.

Then they become students. They write another draft, but this time they seek advice from teachers to use literary techniques, like authors and their mentors.The Conversation

Brett Healey, PhD Student, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.