Monthly Archives: April 2011

Ton or tonne?

I get this quite a lot in manuscripts. Should it be ton or tonne? There are two types of tons, that is, the USA ton, which is 2000 pounds, and the non-USA ton, which is 2,240 pounds. Then there is the tonne, also known as the metric ton, which is 1000 kilograms. So it really depends on where you are and where the manuscript is likely to appear, and also what type of function the word has. If you’re writing in a scientific or very literal sense and are referring to the actual metric weight of something, then tonne is probably best. If you’re writing in a much looser sense, that is, in a more creative and not so factual sense, then ton might be best. As in, ‘There were tons of people waiting outside the venue.’

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Discomfit or discomfort?

I came across ‘discomfit’ repeatedly in a book I was reading recently and, although I know the word, it set me thinking. I would have used ‘discomfort’ in its place, so I decided to check what each actually means. It seems in certain contexts you could use either or, but these are the definitions taken from the Macquarie dictionary, so maybe decide for yourself. Discomfit: to defeat utterly, rout; to thwart, foil; to disconcert. Discomfort: to disturb the comfort or happiness of; make uncomfortable or uneasy.

What do you think? Are their meanings almost the same?

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Bad rap or bad wrap?

Ever wondered what this saying means? A bad rap means to discredit someone or something by making false accusations. A bad wrap, on the other hand, probably refers to a really awful-tasting sandwich made from a tortilla.

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Anzac Day Triggers Memories by Kathleen Stewart

As this sad day dawns in 2011, I can’t help but reflect on the difference in attitude towards those who fought and died in the First and Second World Wars between my adoptive country, Australia, and the country of my birth, South Africa.

My mom, dad, aunt and three of my uncles took part in these wars, fighting on the same side as the Anzacs, and yet they were scarcely honoured in South Africa. I can remember some school ceremonies when the last post was played, and I know my mother certainly never forgot what had occurred or failed to honour those who had died, but, apart from some small low-key ceremonies, not much was made of the sacrifice those young men and women made for the freedom we enjoy today.

This was certainly true once the National Party, who had come to power in 1948, really became ensconced. And I suppose it’s understandable, because much of their leadership consisted of members of the Ossewabrandwag, a society that through its militant arm, the Stormjaers, had tried to sabotage the Allied cause during the Second World War.

So, much belatedly, I’d like to pay tribute to the sacrifice and bravery of those South Africans who fought during the First and Second World Wars.

My mom and aunt served as nurses on the frontline in Egypt, and my mom often told us tales of the men she had nursed. Many were badly injured and did not survive, but there were also tales of happiness and humour. My dad served in the British navy and even served on the ill-fated Hood, fortunately long before its ill-fated sinking. He went all over the world, but his experiences during the war left him scarred for life. In 1916, my uncle Fred ran away to join the war effort as a lad of fifteen, lying about his age in order to be accepted. He and his younger brother Dick also fought in the Second World War. Dick was captured at Tobruk and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp where he suffered many privations. He never fully recovered from the hardships, and remained a thin and sickly man to the end of his life. My uncle Harry also served in the navy and his ship was sunk off the coast of Durban, where the survivors floundered in a sea made viscous by the heavy oil that had leaked from their vessel. By the time they were eventually rescued, a miracle in itself, they had inhaled vast quantities of the toxic fumes, and this was attributed as the cause of Harry’s premature death of lung cancer some time after the war ended.

My fiction manuscript, The ChameleonFactor, is partly based on their lives.

So, on this Anzac Day when we so rightly remember the deeds of those who have fought for Australia and New Zealand, I would like to add my thanks to those of South Africa who also gave up so much for us.

May you all rest in peace.

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How do I approach an editor, agent or publisher?

I was asked to give a talk at the Robina Library some time ago and part of the presentation was on how to present a proposal to an editor, agent or publisher. There’s actually no one correct way, but if you follow the guidelines below you probably won’t go far wrong.

  • Use an easy-to-read font such as Times New Roman or Courier New. Many publishers want Courier New so maybe check their guidelines. This definitely applies to screenplays.
  • Increasingly, submissions are done online, but if the publisher wants a hard-copy submission, then print on one side of the paper only.
  • Use wide margins, that is, 3cm rather than the standard 2.54cm.
  • Check the publisher guidelines to see if your submission should be fully justified, that is, have even margins, or left justified, that is, the right margin will be jagged. If in doubt, use left justified.
  • Preferably don’t indent anything in your covering letter, and don’t use bold, italics or underline.
  • Make liberal use of bullet points in the covering letter rather than huge blocks of text.
  • Insert a header for each page with your name, the year and title of your MS.
  • Insert page numbers at the bottom of each page.
  • Start each element of your proposal on a new page and label each sector clearly.
  • Use a bulldog clip, a strong elastic band or string, or a simple document folder in a bright colour to hold it all together. Don’t use plastic covers or bind it in any way.
  • If possible, keep your presentation as professional as possible. Use a letterhead even if it’s one you make up on your own computer. 
  • Write your covering letter in the third person.
  • Use strong nouns and verbs.
  • Avoid pronouns, adverbs and adjectives.
  • Use simple language, but don’t be condescending.
  • Avoid long sentences.
  • Be professional and don’t try to be ‘clever’.
  • Make sure your covering letter is free of errors. This seems obvious, but it’s really important. If your spelling and grammar is not that good, you may employed an editor to polish your MS and then fall down because you didn’t get anyone to vet your covering letter and proposal.
  • Don’t send in your ideas for the cover art. Leave this to the professionals.
  • Take time over your proposal. Much as you wouldn’t send in the first draft of your completed MS (would you?), don’t send in a half-baked proposal. Give it time and go over it a number of times to make sure it’s right. Get feedback from other people who have your best interests at heart.

Are you an editor, agent or publisher? Any comments or feedback would be welcome.

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How do I address you?

How do you punctuate a sentence to make it clear who is being addressed? This is one of the most common errors I find in manuscripts. The answer is that when you’re writing a message to someone you need to separate the person’s name from the rest of the sentence using a comma. Otherwise your reader may misunderstand the meaning of your message, sometimes with unintentionally funny results. Take a look at these:

‘I’m going to clean up Justin.’

‘I’m going to clean up, Justin.’

‘Go get Fido.’

‘Go get, Fido.’

‘Have a look at that, officer.’

‘Have a look at that officer.’

‘I’m going to see Sam.’

‘I’m going to see, Sam.’

So whenever you address someone directly, separate the vocative from the rest of the sentence with commas.

‘Justin, I’m going to clean up.’

‘Justin, I’m going to see Sam.’

‘Have a look at that, Sam, Justin is cleaning up.’

So, having looked at those examples, which of these do you think is correct?

‘The boss called, Justin, but I took a message.’

‘The boss called Justin, but I took a message.’

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Should it be ‘a’ or ‘an’?

This is confusing, but the rule states that “a” should be used before words that begin with consonants (e.g. b, c ,d) while “an” should be used before words that begin with vowels (e.g. a,e,i). But, the tricky part is that which one you use is determined by the pronunciation and not by the spelling, as many people wrongly assume.

You would therefore say “an hour” (because hour begins with a vowel sound) and “a history” (because history begins with a consonant sound).

Similarly you should say “a union” even if union begins with a “u”. That is, because the pronunciation begins with “yu”, which is a consonant sound.

So, the question arises, would that mean it would be “an” ’erbalist in the USA because they don’t pronounce the “h” and “a” herbalist in countries which do pronounce the “h”?

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