Monday, 24 September 2012

What every chicken should know about Cupertino

I'm not a flash typist.  Reasonably fast, but not efficient.  After 25 years of keyboards and a good few years on a typewriter, I've never progressed beyond two fingers, even if I can usually get by without looking at the keys. As someone unkindly pointed out once, my typing style resembles a starved chicken pecking for food more than anything literary.  But, as I less imaginatively (although quite graphically) pointed out in return, it's amazing what can be communicated with two fingers... and so they did.

Sometimes, one of my fingers overtakes the other, or slips along one position on the keyboard to present a whole new sense (or nonsense) to my writing, and it isn't uncommon for me to sign off my emails with:
instead of:

Sometimes, the nonsense my typing creates seems almost inspired, suggesting another (stronger) meaning to the one I intended, and I've redrafted whole paragraphs accordingly.  This is when I thank the gods for the divine cock-up.

And sometimes, I've wondered what it wopidl bne like to leave all my errotd om [plave, as a post-modern respomse tp writing loiterature... and whether thos mught catch om.  Might this be the new CLOCkwprk Oramge?  Hmm, one day I might gibe it a go, but that's probably enough for the moment.

Occasionally, the issue is compounded by AutoCorrect.  (This only happens when I'm not working on my own machine, though, because it's a program I loathe with a passion and so automatically turn it off.)  On such occasions, any word that Microsoft's limited dictionary doesn't recognise - either because of my chicken-pecking clumsiness or because Autospell has the vocabulary of a poorly-read hermit - automatically becomes another word.

The most memorable example of this maladjustment was in an essay I received from a student several years ago, who was describing Lennie, from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.  Either her spelling wasn't crash hot or her typing was at a similar level to mine, because instead of writing that Lennie was a gentle giant, she had written Lennie was a gental giant, which AutoCorrect had changed to Lennie was a genital giant

With AutoCorrect, the spellings of surnames are also changed at the drop of a hat, and Burman becomes Barman (not too bad, except the tips are lousy), whereas my mistyped apul becomes appal.  Steinbeck's colloquial helluva becomes a medical heloma, a misspelled resterant becomes reiterant in preference to restaurant, and so on.

What I didn't know until recently, however, is that there is a word to describe this effect, named after what was a common error.  Early Microsoft AutoCorrect software did not recognise the word cooperation unless it was hyphenated (co-operation) and replaced this spelling with the closest word it knew: Cupertino (the home of Apple Inc.).  Hence, the Cupertino effect.  This apparently resulted in a number of foreign policy documents stressing the importance of international Cupertino, and also serves to illustrate the importance of roof-weeding.

After I've written my post-modernist CLOCkwprk Oramge, I might rewrite a few classics in Cupertino, beginning with Of Mice and Men.

 This article first appeared in The View From Here (August 2011).

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Grease Monkey's Tale - an approach #1

There’s a number of things I keep in mind when writing, but at the forefront of these is an intent to only stick with those stories I get a kick out of working on, and to only write books I’d really like to read myself.  There's a number of other things I could say about the reasons I need to write, how the stories we tell interpret the world we live in, how we connect our present with our past through the stories we tell, and so on, but none of this counts for much if I’m not fully engaged with the characters I’m working with and the stories they’re revealing.
That being said, the stories I write (and like to read) share some common traits.  I enjoy stories where the order of a character’s world is challenged, particularly if the nature of reality is also challenged, and even more so if the significant relationships in that character’s life are tested as a consequence.  There’s nothing new in this, of course, for these elements have been central to storytelling for hundreds of years – it’s just the way the stories are told that changes.  Our stories are filled with dupes and rogues, villains and heroes, victors and victims; usually against a tale of forbidden love or treacherous love, unrequited love or happy-ever-after-love – elements which bring out the best and worst in people.  Even as children, the stories we most frequently tell deal with a quest for happiness in terms of the ideal partner (Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty) or deal with maintaining order and justice in a precarious world (Little Red Riding Hood, The Pied Piper of Hamlin, The Billy Goats Gruff).

For The Grease Monkey’s Tale however, I wanted to throw as much as possible at Nic the mechanic.  He is both innocent dupe and hero, both victor and victim, and experiences almost everything that life (and love) can hurl at someone, particularly in his relationship with Siobhan McConnell.  Rather than have a simple, fairy-tale quest and limited paths to follow, Nic finds himself caught up in life at its messiest.  He experiences how challenging and irrevocable some decisions can be, and how our simplest choices can determine our best or worst fortune.  He has to decide what he will compromise or sacrifice, create or destroy, in order to sustain his relationship with Siobhan.
Through Nic, I wanted to explore different layers of truths, untruths and lies, and how significant stories are in shaping our understanding of the world we live in.  Truth is a fickle creature, but our understanding of it, however limited, arbitrarily shapes the nature of our relationships, the choices we make, the paths we follow, the paths we abandon... the life we live.  The adventure of that story, with all its explosions and pistol shots, romance and mystery, is the adventure I was keen to create and explore in The Grease Monkey’s Tale.

It was while I was redrafting Grease Monkey and asking myself that hardest of questions – What’s this story really about? – that the poem I eventually used as an epigraph worked its way into my head:

What is this Truth?
And where does it steal from?
Who is its mistress today?
And who was its master yesterday?
A fickle beast of ruthless pedigree,
Best lay it to rest with a story.
Give me a good, honest lie any day.

A version of this article first appeared on the Legend Press website in 2010.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Book Trailers, Blue Friday and the like

There was a time not so long ago when book trailers, although a fine idea, seemed more designed to cure potential readers of insomnia than to tantalise them with the promise of an exciting new adventure.  Instead of encouraging me to read, they made me want to take up base jumping or shark wrestling... anything to prove to myself that I was still alive after their minute or so of mind-numbing tedium. *Yawn*

It's good to see how much things have improved, and particularly when this is associated with the work of a friend. Elsewhen Press recently released a trailer for  Mike French's novel Blue Friday, which found its way into the world as an ebook last Saturday, prior to its November release in paperback. There's drama in this 'ere trailer, so enjoy and then order a copy (Mike's website provides a number of e-book links).

All of which makes this an appropriate occasion to flag the great job Jen Persson did of creating a trailer for The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore a couple of years back.  It hasn't gone viral yet, but if you click on it enough times it may do!  Go on, click away on both of them.