Jan. 13th, 2010

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There are no children in the house for the first time in over 3 weeks! Curiously, these interminable school holidays (it was the same in October) have not seemed to hamper my productivity. I suppose panic sets in and helps spur me on. (I am still very good at messing about.)

I want to share some wisdom from the SOE Secret Operations Manual with all you writerly types out there. This is from the section on "Concreteness" from the "Propaganda Presentation" chapter, and I love it because it exactly describes How I Write Fiction (or try to, anyway).

a) Avoid abstract words like the plague, because:

1. Such words as "democracy", "patriotism", "freedom", have become platitudes without significance.

2. Even where abstracts are not yet platitudinous, they can never affect a reader's self-interest so powerfully as concrete words. E.g.:

For "patriotism" say "Love of France."

For "hunger" say "empty bellies."

For "The Peace Loving Dutch nation are now resisting German oppression" say "The Dutch people, who once grew tulips and made cheese, are now stabbing Germans in the back."

oy vey... a little context is necessary to appreciate their examples. The book is a teaching manual for agents about to be parachuted into Nazi occupied Europe.

For "Germany's death-rate is rising in Russia" say "German corpse is piled upon German corpse among the blood, the bone, the twisted tripes and scattered bowels of the Russian battlefield."


You get the idea. But it is something that I do very consciously. I was in a writing workshop once where my virtuosity was outclassed by someone else's very simple description of a hand smeared with wet dye from a colored Easter egg. The leader of the workshop (I think it was Philippa Pearce) called me out. "This is better than yours. Do you know why?"

I did. You could weigh that egg in your hand. The image, though not the words, has stayed with me for more than 15 years.

There is a good example in The Winter Prince where instead of "You are walking on thin ice" Medraut says "You are hurling your slight weight against a very thin scale of ice."


OH, AND SPEAKING OF ICE! On Sunday we walked across the frozen Loch Leven to the castle there--about a three mile walk in total, by the time we'd messed about and visited all the islands. It was one of the most awesome things we've ever done. Apparently the ice was over 7 inches thick and had been declared safe by the police (though we blithely walked across it without knowing that)--unfortunately it was not smooth enough for curling or skating, being covered with 4 inches of snow.

I took just so many wonderful pictures that I got to grips with Photobucket and uploaded them all here, if anyone's interested. I am not, I repeat, not a photographer. It wasn't even my camera. But it has been almost impossible NOT to take a pretty picture around here lately.

Our snow is melting, but the grass in our front garden is still covered. This has also been going on for more than three weeks (like the children's holiday), wholly unheard of for my ten years in Scotland (ten years this month!). It is foggy and drippy now but still white. GOTHIC, some might say.


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