Words I Love: crooked

crooked – adjective

  1. bent, curved, twisted out of shape.
  2. dishonest, illegal

Origins: From the Middle English ‘crook’ (noun a hooked staff belonging to a shepherd or verb to bend), or possibly from the Old Norse krókóttr, which means something along the lines of ‘cunning’.

I’ve mentioned ‘crooked’ a lot in my Words I Love posts and thought I would go with my past-self and make ‘crooked’ my next word. A lot of my associations with this particular word probably come from the crooked man nursery rhyme.

There was a crooked man,
and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence
upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat,
which caught a crooked mouse,
and they all lived together
in a little crooked house.

I heard and read it so much as a child that it’s gotten itself stuck in my brain and may never leave. It’s been the starting point for horror films and antagonists in games, and books (I am looking at you, The Book of Lost Things, which is a book everyone should read especially if they love fairy tales) for years, and I completely understand why.

It’s such a wonderful (if creepy) image, a crooked man.

Weirdly, my imaginings don’t give me a one-way ticket to Creepyville Towers; when I see the word ‘crooked’, my mind leaps straight to old and rickety, all twisted limbs and slow walking, it takes me somewhere eccentric rather than somewhere dangerous. Still cunning but not necessarily evil.

Crooked is elderly but still full of wit, where the cunning comes from being underestimated and knowing about it. Crooked brings to mind Baba Yaga, Rumpelstiltskin, Moana’s grandmother (in the most wonderful way possible), Madam Mim (who wasn’t really bad, who I adore). When I am old and decrepit, I hope that I can be one of those crooked little crones that you might find in a fairy tale. Not an evil one, obviously, but the kind that looks like they have a secret (and does indeed have one), and the kind that does inexplicable things for what seems like no reason but actually has a plan.

Crooked brings to mind ramshackle buildings and shanty towns, fairy tale locations, leaning towers and dark woods with twisting branches. Crooked is a little bit magic, a little bit dark, and a little bit whimsical.

Is it any wonder that I love and use it so much?

One phrase we should really stop using

I might be alone in this. I might be the only person who thinks that this phrase is vile but we’re going to discuss it because I have an opinion, and opinions make for good blog posts (make a great post from a neutral standpoint, I challenge you). I don’t know when I started disliking it, but it occurred to me the other day that I definitely do dislike it and it’s actually quite creepy.

The phrase in question goes thus:

“[…] at the tender age of ______”

Everyone has read/heard/said that phrase somewhere. I think the eagle-eyed among you may even be able to find that very phrase somewhere in the recesses of this blog (I would be interested to know if you can, if anyone who isn’t me can be bothered to look – there are a lot of posts…). It looks pretty innocuous. It’s not rude, it’s quite common, what could possibly be wrong with it?

Well, pull up a chair, my curious little friend, for I am going to tell you. (We’re using our English Lit. degree today, pals, buckle up!)

It all has to do with three things: A) who is saying it, B) who they are saying it to, and C) the word ‘tender’, and we are going to discuss these in reverse order (because the rules of chronology are apparently too hard for me).

‘Tender’ isn’t a horrible word, it’s quite a good word. It can mean gentlekind-heartedaffectionate, and I have no doubt that when the phrase first came into fashion it was these definitions that were originally meant but that’s where my first problem arises. There is no gentle age. There is no affectionate age. Either you are affectionate and gentle, or you’re not. It’s not age which determines gentleness but experience, which brings me to my next definition.

‘Tender’ can be taken to mean inexperienced. Sure, you can be waxing about how you, at the tender age of five and three quarters were unaware of the trials and foibles you would be put through in your teens, and that is your right, but what about when someone else says it about you? I’m getting ahead of myself. One point at a time, Elou. I suppose I can accept the phrase when it is used in this way. You talking about your inexperienced self. That’s okay. That’ll get a pass.

But let’s look a bit more at ‘tender’. ‘Tender’ is sensitive to pain, ‘tender’ is vulnerable, ‘tender’ is easy to cut or chew. ‘Tender’ is delicious. How many times have you, when asked how the meat you are eating is have praised it as so tender? I have, many times. Now think of talking about a child at a tender age. Shudder.

On to point B. If you’re using the phrase you’re either talking about a child or someone who was a child at the time you are referring to, or you are probably ironically referring to yourself being at a tender age even though you are 32. Again, if you’re talking about yourself, fine. Go ahead, say what you will, enjoy yourself. But saying it about a child, or adolescent is still a bit creepy.

Think about it, you’re pointing out their inexperience, their vulnerability, you are bringing into focus the fact that they are weak and you, in comparison, are strong. The speaker gives themselves the power, which brings me swiftly to point A: who is saying it.

Imagine a professor or teacher, haughty, a middling age, let’s say 40-50. He has a slight paunch and a habit of talking down to people. Now, imagine him talking about a young girl at the tender age of eight.


Tell me that isn’t creepy?

Take into account who he could be talking to, a colleague of equal age? A parent? The child herself? None of these options feel good to me.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Am I just blowing it out of proportion and taking an innocent phrase to a darker place, a place where it has no business being? You decide. Answers on a postcard. Or, you know, in the comments.

Words I Love: phillumenist

phillumenist – noun

  1. a person who engages in phillumeny; a person who collects match-related items, like matchbox labels, matchboxes, matchbooks, or matchbook covers.

Origins: from the Greek phil- meaning loving and the Latin ‘lumen’ meaning light, the term has only been in existence since 1943 by Marjorie S. Evans, a British collector.

Phillumenist and phillumeny are such lovely sounding words. The fact that they exist is great and makes me want to look up terms for people who collect other things to see if they exist too and what they might be. These sound like terms you would see in a fantasy novel (I forget whether there are clairvoyants in The Bone Season that use matches for their craft, but I can well imagine that they are called phillumenists if there are).

I’ve discovered that I love words which put me in mind of little elderly people with crooked fingers and microscopic interests in things that the younger generation might find dull or silly. As I mentioned in my last Words I Love post, I love words that poke and prod at my imagination (and put me in mind of crooked people, maybe crooked should be my next word, since I’ve used it so much across these posts). Sure, technically all words do this. Words are our main method of communication and communication relies on our minds being able to make more from the sounds we thrust at each other with our mouths…

That took a weird turn. Sorry about that. But you get what I mean, right?

Anywho, it’s a lovely word. A lovely, lovely word.

In which I found a crack in the Universe

Or at the very least, imagined a poem by Edgar Allan Poe.

Hello, bloglings of varying shapes, sizes and mythical denominations. It has become increasingly obvious to me that I may have stumbled across a crack in the universe and now she’s trying her hardest to fill it in, to make me either forget about it or to convince me I am a little bit nuts and have made-up memories. Either way, it’s working, so here I am writing a blog post about it.

I realise that this all sounds a bit mad, so I am going to explain myself.

Circa 2011/2012 I was given a copy of the leatherbound Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Barnes & Noble Collectible Editions). It is a beautiful edition, which currently resides at my parents’ house due to my severe lack bookshelves and space to put bookshelves. I vividly remember flicking through this book in my bedroom the aforementioned parents’ house, I remember the room’s dark purples and limited light adding an ambience to the whole thing. I remember feeling the pages in my hands and flipping it open to a random point in the book.

I remember a very short poem. Shorter than any Poe I had ever read previously. It was about a grave/death. A woman being in the ground. I remember nothing else about this poem. I so vividly remember finding it and being so in love with it. I remember adding it to my profile on Elftown, my once upon a time internet hang-out. Naturally, I deleted it at some point so it is no longer there to find.

No one I know who enjoys Mister Poe seemed to be aware of this poem’s existence. Google searching phrases like ‘shortest Edgar Allan Poe poem’ yields stanzas upon stanzas and nothing even nearly as short as I remember. This had been haunting me for years but anytime I was near enough my copy of the book to check, I’d forgotten that it was bothering me. Clearly, the universe didn’t want me to know something.

To that, I say screw you, universe! (I’m kidding, I love you really, you contain the stars and the planets and the moon and I find all of those things fascinating and inspiring and terrible – the great unknown is always terrible – in equal measure.)

This story has a happy ending, though. I’ve had spurts of looking for this poem and failing for the last few years, and I’ve never progressed in my search. Until now. While ranting to my best friend, who humours all of my weird and wonderful ways and knows exactly when to offer sympathy even though I am being ridiculous, I suddenly had a vague flicker of memory which I have never had before. I was suddenly struck with the knowledge that one of the words in the poem was ‘earth’ and another was ‘deep’. In all my years of searching, I’ve never had any inkling of the contents except for a vague understanding of the theme (grave/death, woman – or so I presumed anyway).

The universe has finally decided I am ready.

It is with thanks to the universe (and a hope that the universe is not offended by my earlier comment), that I present to you my favourite poem which was found scribbled in the margins of the manuscript for ‘Eulalie’.

Deep in Earth (1847)

Deep in earth my love is lying
And I must weep alone.

Words I Love: cloudland

cloudland – noun

  1. the sky
  2. a region of unreality, imagination etc.; dreamland
  3. a Utopian place

How wonderful is this word? How whimsical and beautiful?

d3I love clouds. I love cloud in the sky, I love clouds where there shouldn’t be clouds (and would love, love, love to see the work of Berndnaut Smilde in real life – I also love his name, it’s a great name), I love storm clouds, and wispy sunny day clouds. I love having my head in the clouds.

It is no surprise, then, that I love cloudland. It is one of many names for what I create, I make cloudlands in single frames (or multiple when those frames are part of my Cloudiverse). A lot of my favourite words have something to do with clouds.

They are whimsy in sort-of corporeal form. They are powerful and gentle in equal measure.

7857939112_064bee1fdd_kI particularly love the second definition: a region of unreality. It’s a wonderful phrase in itself, let alone it being summed up in one glorious word. It sounds magic, a quirky kind of magic. You wouldn’t find a bog standard witch or wizard creating a region of unreality. You’d find a crooked little magician, who lives in a crooked little house where most things are upside down and back to front, and all his cloudlands sit trapped in little boxes and jars and terrariums ready for release when he needs them.

It’s such an evocative word, I can see it every time I say it. The image I see is ever changing and immaterial. I love words that pull an imaginative response from me and this is certainly one of those words.

Just writing this has made me feel a fizzing urge to create something, anything. So perhaps, I shall. Maybe, there will be a story about a crooked little magician coming soon to a blog near you.

Words I Love: escutcheon

I’m a big fan of creating a series of posts on this blog, and so I am continuing to do so (and will continue to do so in the future – repetition be damned!). As you may already know, one of my greatest loves in life is words. I love the way they feel in my mouth, I love that we have a single sound to mean a certain thing and that we have so many of these in so many different languages that I could never list them all in my lifetime. So I’m going to talk about them.

There will be some overlap with my currently dormant Definition project (new images coming later this year, fingers crossed!), but all of it will be wholly new and lovely and I can’t wait to write these posts. In the spirit of not waiting, I am going to get cracking.

escutcheon – noun

  1. a shield or emblem bearing a coat of arms
  2. a flat piece of metal for protection and often ornamentation, around a keyhole, door handle, or light switch
  3. In medicine: the pattern of distribution of hair upon the pubic mound.
  4. A marking upon the back of a cow’s udder and the space above it (the perineum), formed by the hair growing upward or outward instead of downward. It was once taken as an index of milking qualities.
  5. The part of a ship’s stern where its name is displayed.
  6. A decorative and/or protective plate or bezel to fill the gap between a switch, pipe, valve, control knob, etc., and the surface from which it protrudes.
  7. The insignia around a doorknob’s exterior hardware or a door lock’s cosmetic plate.
  8. The depression behind the beak of certain bivalves; the ligamental area.

Origins: Latin – Anglo-Norman – Old French

I am going to note here that I only knew a few of the definitions before writing this entry, number three was not one of them and earned a raised eyebrow (or as much of one as I can muster with my feeble facial muscles). It was definitions 1, 2 and 6 that made me love this word for its meaning.

I didn’t realise that the metal ornament around a keyhole had a name, I didn’t realise there was a specific name for where the name of a ship goes. Even though they, and shields/emblems, are such vastly different things it managed to suit them. Somehow. Words are weird and wonderful and I love them. Escutcheon. Of course that’s what the bit of metal around a keyhole is called. Of course it is.

However, my love for it stemmed in actuality from Syfy’s rendition of Alice in Wonderland, titled simply Alice. Wherein the White Knight uses it in conversation in his wonderful voice. Unfortunately I can’t find a video nor a gif of it. I am saddened. You will have to take my word for it. Or watch Alice, which is great – you really should.

I just loved the way it sounded, then I said it myself and it’s just so fun to say. Try it. You’ll see. It’s such an awkward word, the spelling is awkward, saying it is awkward, I have now learnt that one of its meanings is awkward. I like awkward things. (Note: I do not like cringe-worthy awkward or obstinately awkward for the sake of being awkward. My meaning here is goofy awkward.) I, myself, am awkward, I always try to do things in the most awkward way possible because the straightforward ways of doing things just don’t occur to me, so I like words that sound awkward in the same way. If I dropped ‘escutcheon’ into conversation, I would wager that most people wouldn’t know what it meant. It’s quite awkward to drop into a conversation now that I think about it. I like that too.

Ah, words.

The ‘Can-Do’ Kind of Attitude

In a lot of my cover letters, when applying for jobs, I write that I have a ‘can-do’ attitude. This is true, I do. I decide I want to do/learn/get/make something so I do/learn/get/make it. The most recent example of this is my youtube channel, I decided I wanted to learn how to edit videos so I dived into it head first (a few new videos are in the works!).

But this approach does not always work.

Over the last two days I have been avidly proofreading Jenny‘s manuscript, The Lightning Tree, ready for her to begin querying with agents. An almost 50,000 word feat which she completed in four months, writing for three hours each day, while living in Vancouver. The manuscript is sound, I found a few typos and maybe three sentences which needed a bit of tweaking but other than that it is more than ready to land in the IN trays of however many agents she chooses to query.

I have known for almost four years that her writing is incredible (three of those spent at university in Chester under the brilliant tutelage of Francesca Haig and the rest of the English Department – we heartily recommend and I am a massive suck-up), so had high expectations of her manuscript. Not only did she meet those, but she surpassed them.

What does this have to do with my ‘can-do’ attitude? Jenny has achieved something which even my ‘can-do’ attitude seems to shiver in fear from. I am writing a novel but like some other aspiring novelists, I get distracted. I thrive on deadlines and challenges and things with purpose, undertaking university work or ‘actual job’ work doesn’t make my attitude run and hide but this thing, this novel that I have embarked on out of love and imagination makes my attitude retreat into a corner, quivering and whimpering. It is the one thing that my ‘can-do’ can’t do … or at least has trouble with.

It was in reading The Lightning Tree, talking to Jen and thinking about the manuscript I am itching to finish but seem to be scared of that I formulated a plan. A completely ridiculous but perhaps so ridiculous-and-challenging-that-it-might-just-work sort of a plan.

I recently mentioned the Hot Key Young Writers Prize in one of my blog entries, and last night I made the decision that I was going to enter. This morning I sent off my first 4000 words, synopsis, bio and entry form – after a hefty edit of the start of the novel, which has been going on for a while. Now, I have until October to finish writing and editing the rest of it just in case I am long-listed. I had been considering entering for a while, so luckily, those words were ready.

But Emma/Elou/Memma/whatever-you-happen-to-call-me what about the other things, university/work/youtube/photography/anything-else-you-might-mention-that-I-happen-to-do? Well, I am nothing if not up for a challenge. See what I mean by so ridiculous-and-challenging-that-it-might-just-work?

So there it is, what do you do when your ‘can do’ is having a wobble? Something ridiculous and exciting all at the same time.

If you want to know more about Jen and The Lightning Tree, she’s just set up a brand new blog! I suggest you follow it. She can also be found on Twitter.

A blog-related update: while sharing a few blogs on twitter, I remarked that I felt like a ‘child catcher’ only nicer and with blogs instead of children. It is with that in mind that I have decided to start a feature, named The Blog Catcher (complete with a silly little banner, probably), in which I share the interesting blogs I read/stumble upon. These may not always be publishing and/or book related but they all promise to be interesting.

The Trouble with Opening Chapters

June 20th saw the return of the Hot Key Young Writers Prize, a writing competition which looks for the best, undiscovered middle-grade and young adult fiction from 18 – 25 year-old writers. It seeks talent and imagination and in return offers the chance to snag a potential worldwide publishing contract and editorial support from the Hot Key editors. Exciting! If you’ve read this blog before you probably know that I love Hot Key Books but you may not know that I also write (unless you’ve taken a gander at my ‘about’ page).

From 2009 until 2012, I studied Creative Writing with English Literature at the University of Chester (a course I would recommend) with a view to become a published author/poet as well as to further my knowledge for my future publishing career. Writing has always been a big part of my life, from the moment I could hold a pen – I remember being given a Pocahontas notebook near its release date in 1995 and scrawling what I thought was a story about Pocahontas on its pages, having found it a year or so ago I can confirm that it is scribbling rather than writing but the act of (what I thought was) writing a Pocahontas story in pencil in that notepad is one of my most vivid childhood memories.

Once I’d gotten the hang of all 26 letters (with the exception of the capital ‘E’, which I modified by adding two extra lines to cure the loneliness of the one in the middle), I could very rarely be torn away from my stories. They started with animals, mostly rabbits, and then I moved onto an obsession with all things Victorian, writing a story about a young girl who finds an abandoned house and discovers, upon going through the door, that she has been transported back in time (clearly inspired by the brilliant Tom’s Midnight Garden), among many others. I have always adored writing.

When I was younger writing was free and easy and I didn’t have to worry about the importance of the opening or whether my syntax made sense, all I had to do was untangle the knot of ideas in my head and try to write it in my neatest writing (I always knew stories were worth more than just being a messy unreadable scrawl) but now that I am an ‘adult’ embarking on my ‘proper’ writing journey it’s less about getting everything on the page even if some of the details are muddled and more about getting it right and on the page. I struggle with that part.

Getting the opening right is arguably the most important part when entering competitions or querying, it is the first thing judges or agents and publishers will see of your work, if it doesn’t capture them you won’t have much luck. My openings can be weak, my opening sentences tend to pack a punch but the chapter that follows that sentence if often not the best it could be. When I write my opening chapters, I don’t know my story and they end up becoming rambling, info beasts; they become back story. Very recently I discovered the answer to that problem: I’ve started deleting my first chapters.

I am embracing the much used ‘kill your darlings’ approach (referenced both by William Faulkner and Stephen King or in the words of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch ‘murder your darlings’) and it is working. I write better openings when I don’t think that they are openings.

Once I am a few chapters in, I jump back to the start, extract any paragraphs or phrases that appeal to me and then move the rest into a new document, using it only for reference and world-building. I would recommend this practise to anyone. Don’t think your opening chapter is working? Try getting rid of it, try starting with chapter two. You might be surprised at the results.

Extraordinary Things in Ordinary Places

This morning, as I sat on the bus reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent (for the second time, more on that in a later entry) on the way to OICPS, I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life. As I glanced out the window to see whereabouts I was, I was met with the fields by Water Eaton Park and Ride, covered in mist with the sun peeking over the top. Everything was in sepia.

When I looked up again, I was met with something better, something which looked as if it had leapt right out of a painting and I wish I had a camera. Rising up next to the sun, so close it looked huge, was the silhouette of a hot air balloon.

It was possibly the best way to start the day. The artist in me craved to capture it, camera in hand (if only I had one with me which wasn’t my phone); the writer in me wanted to pluck it out of the sky and onto the page; the rest of me was just happy to have seen it. Mist and fog are, perhaps, my favourite weather conditions, sunrise/sunset are my favourite times of day (except when the sky is clear at night and I am out in the middle of nowhere, where the stars are at their brightest – an experience I have only really had once, when in Scotland last December for a friend’s birthday, in a castle away from civilisation).

I think writing is all about finding extraordinary things in ordinary places, even when writing fantasy. When that bleeds into your real life, your real experiences, you should grab it and run with it. I think I should listen to my own advice. So that is what I am going to do within the next few days, between the wedding editing (more on that in a later blog post) and the university reading.