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The Writing of Clear English: A Book for Students of Science and Technology by F. W. Westaway

F. W. Westaway The Writing of Clear English

In a local charity shop I found a pocket-size blue book, printed in 1926, written by a man called Frederic William Westaway and entitled ‘The Writing of Clear English: A Book for Students of Science and Technology’. The book’s age and the subject, writing for science, immediately made me want it.

The story of my book

On 22 July 1931 my copy of the book was stamped with ‘Marlborough College’, ‘Second hand book department’ in green ink. On this occasion it was bought by a C. B. Grimaldi. On the 24 October 1932, the book was again stamped with a ‘Marlborough College’, ‘Second hand book department’ stamp. This time in pink ink. Who it was sold to is unknown, but it went for 4/8, whatever that should mean.

The book was also owned by a D. S. Robinson, his or her name is scrawled in blue in on the inside cover.

I know little of the author Frederic William Westaway, but that he was, at one point in his life, one of His Majesty’s Inspectors of Secondary Schools.

Grammar and style

Unlike many grammar books, Westaway doesn’t simply give a list of rules to follow. Rules do exist, and they are stated, but the wonder of the book is the use of examples.

The following is an example of careless stopping:

“Rule, Britannia; Britannia rules the waves”.

There should be a comma after the second Britannia, and the indicative should be replaced by another imperative.

[I believe the use of double quotation marks is of its time. My modern copy of Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own, first published 1929, states in the introduction that quotation marks have been changed from the original double to single for clarity.]

Many more of Westaway’s examples come from academic papers, journals such as Nature, and daringly even other grammar books.

Each chapter begins with a couple of quotes about either writing or grammar – a number of which are from Shakespeare.

How to be a better writer

Anyway, Westaway’s advice on mastering the art of writing?

He who desires to write correctly must train himself to review with a critical eye what other people have written. To understand exactly what the different words in a sentence mean, what functions they discharge, what relation they bear to one another, and what the sentence as a whole signifies, all these things are indispensable.

To which end my suggestion would be Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose.

 

 

[The photograph shows my desk.]
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Living to the theme of ‘A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink’

books and reading

I’m attracted to books that say that the thing I like doing will be important in the future. I love being told that I should embrace the wonder that is creativity, take time out to laugh, and that stories are everything. If a book suggests meditation and yoga, drawing and creative writing, reading fiction and telling stories, then as long as I don’t trip over the words, I’m sold.

When I read a book from The Mother’s bookshelf I expect something about leadership, or getting yourself organised, or maybe something on wonderful CV, presentation or interview creation. ‘How to be’s on topics like confidence, persuasion and courage. I go to The Mother’s bookshelf looking for books that are going to tell me how to grasp that elusive sense of life structure. I don’t borrow her books expecting they will tell me – draw, meditate, play, tell stories, dance when you want to and most importantly laugh.

I zoomed through A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, reading it in about three evenings. I was easily sold. It’s just affirmation of my own beliefs. The book wants me to step aside from the job lists and play.

Bookcover - a whole new mind by Daniel Pink

There’s something rather cheerful about orange book covers.

Maybe I ought to diversify my reading.

The book did tell me a lot that I already know. Life is better when we make things, when we move and when we open our hearts. It can’t be a bad thing that I already knew many of the answers to the questions it posed. I do draw. I do dance around the hovel with the curtains shut, the music loud and laugh at myself. Expressing my emotions effectively is sometimes a bit of a challenge. It’s either all or nothing. But I like to think that I’m wise enough to once in a while stop and listen.

By the looks of the smooth pages, The Mother hasn’t yet begun ‘whole new mind’ development. However, its being on her bookshelf shows that she’s either actively chosen a book with chapters like Story, Symphony and Play, or she’s buying books without reading the description.

I’m going with the first option as in your own study, unlike in a supermarket, it’s not an embarrassment to wear your glasses. Just to clarify, I don’t believe people should be embarrassed about wearing glasses at all. Certainly not so embarrassed they lose them more times than they wear them.

Does The Mother therefore aspire to learn from a book that recommends humour? If so, this is a twist to a fundamental building block of my existence.

(Ok, yes, when Daniel Pink recommended comedy as a valuable part of life I did shudder and quickly read on.)

dancing when nobody is watching

By no means do I actually have legs that bend like that.

I caricature The Mother as a very serious woman. This should be taken with a cellar of salt. Yes, The Mother is process driven, tick box addicted and overwhelmingly focused on check lists and the watch on her wrist. That said, she’s also an international adventurer. She’s ridden camels and elephants. The Mother tells stories. She incorporates different voices as her different characters. She brings them to life, and makes the Midget and I laugh. She draws. Not regularly, and rarely anything more than a house with a tree, but when she’s sat in the lounge with a glass of wine and I’m drawing on my tablet she likes to have a go. The Mother sometimes needs instructing that it is ‘time for a hug’, but if tragedy happens – like I come across a dead mouse – then she steps in to comfort me.

The prediction that the things I like doing matter to the future is reassuring to read. It’s nice to think that I’ll never have to live at 200 mph like The Mother does. I can guarantee I’d fail. I don’t think I’ll ever have her strength of attack, even after reading all the books on her bookshelf.

But it’s also a reminder to value these simple things today, even if the time available to do them is rarer than I’d like.

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Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

The Grump bought me this book as my birthday present last year. If you’re head over heels in love with writing, it’s a source of great joy, but for anyone who thinks they would be a better person if they only just read a wider and actually grasped what it was they were reading, then I think this book is also a star.

It’s filled with examples and extracts that land a punch. I scribbled down names of books I’m hungry for more of, and it comes with a suggested reading list in the back.

But for a book with such a general balance of different sorts of story, there was one whole chapter which seemed out-of-place. It was about this guy called Chekhov. Some strange Russian chap whose name floated meaninglessly through my brain.

Francine Prose whittled on about reading Chekhov, teaching Chekhov and falling more and more in love with Chekhov. She talked about reading Chekhov on the bus – and I think if you can read a book on a bus it’s got to be pretty absorbing.

So, when passing through Oxfam, this slender 99p book, A Russian Love Affair by Anton Chekhov, jumped out at me, I thought – why not. After all, Francine Prose knows how to write a good book and she thinks reading this 119 pages is worth my time.

Turns out she was right. I love Chekhov. He uses beautiful sentences like: ‘On the table was a watermelon’, in the middle of a scene of adultery. He’s on my list to Father Christmas.

As a side note. The book is part of a series of books by Penguin called ‘Great Loves’. Oxfam had, past tense, a few. One of these other slim volumes was by a name I recognised but not due to his literary prowess, but the notoriety of his antics in the bedroom. Of Mistresses, Tigeresses and Other Conquests by Giacomo Casanova is sadly only a few extracts from the longer 14 volumes of memoirs.

Another Christmas wish.

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Books by Philippa Gregory

The Little House

Gosh.

I picked this book up from a charity shop, purely on the name ‘Philippa Gregory’. It’s not historical fiction, which is what I normally associate with Philippa Gregory. Instead it’s the story of a seemingly normal woman, living a seemingly normal life in a little house.

After leaving it on the bookshelf for a few weeks, maybe months, I picked it up. Buying books, and then leaving them to mature before I actually open them is normal for me.

I opened the book for the first time mid-morning on an ordinary day. It wasn’t with intention to actually read the book, but as part of an investigation into how the books clustered on my shelves were written. My obsession with writing often leads me to investigate how a certain author writes. On this particular instance, I wanted to see if Philippa Gregory was writing in first or third person.

What a mistake.

Open book midway through, read a paragraph. And then I’m not entirely sure what happened. Hours passed. My legs went numb. I closed the book, shocked.

Quite honestly, I think it’s the best Philippa Gregory book I’ve read. I have no idea what happens in the first third. I’m much too scared to find out.

The Lady of the Rivers

It’s no The Little House, but unlike The Little House I can imagine myself able to reread it  without fearing for my emotional stability.

Character driven, and you couldn’t help but love Jacquetta. Despite the hints of magic and the high relations and influences of a royal court she seemed so incredibly normal. You want to be her friend. The plot was more subtle, there was no great race for a conclusion, and really there is no true conclusion, but the continual plod of history. This, surprisingly, didn’t feel like a bad thing.

The Kingmaker’s Daughter

The Kingmaker’s Daughter, however, was more traditionally structured: it had a clear beginning, middle and end. Anne certainly developed as a character as she grew older and got bashed through history, but there was something tragic about her. I was angry when I turned the final page (I might have sworn loudly), and it got me thinking that sometimes there’s something nice about happy endings. Sometimes I like a likable character and a happy ending.

A happy ending allows you to have closure and finality with a book. Maybe it isn’t as powerful. I don’t know I have as much residual emotion from books that just end happily.

Thinking about The Kingmaker’s Daughter makes me feel a little angry.

It’s party how real the characters feel. I can see myself in both, but whilst you like Jacquetta, I fear  Anne incorporates more of my natural manipulativeness and tendency to hold a grudge. Anne and I hold our feeling close.

Then there’s The Little House. Just thinking about The Little House makes me feel truly horrified and hollow.

That burst of emotion, that comes with the final kick of the last page, tends to stick around. I recall being stunned and not able to think straight when I finished the Little House. I recall feeling like my soul had been twisted and that I wasn’t quite real when I finished The God of Small Things – another stunning book.

Both The Lady of the River and The Kingmaker’s Daughter were recommended to me by The Midget.

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The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Marian edits surveys. She makes sure that the questions result useful answers. Meanwhile she deals with the questions of love, marriage and babies.

As Margaret Atwood’s first novel,  published in 1969, it doesn’t feel as dated as I feel it ought to.

Whilst this book wasn’t as gripping, or as horrifying as The Handmaid’s Tale, which is the only other Margaret Atwood book I’ve read, it subtly got to me. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, it makes you question your own beliefs and values, but I think it was somehow more personal. It felt written for confused 20-something women.

It seems right that I should read The Edible Woman before embarking on survey work as part of my life’s monotonous 9-5 routine. In all honesty I’m quite intrigued by the challenge, but I can see how on repeat it could easily become deliriously dull.

As a side note, The Handmaid’s Tale is horrifying, but certainly worth a read.

Bought in a charity shop after enjoying The Handmaids Tale also by Margaret Atwood.

 

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Review: The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson

Historical fiction telling the tale of Catherine de Valois who became the Henry V’s Queen of England

I liked this book. I curled up in bed and read it one evening until my eye lids were droopy, and then the following morning until the end. That’s a pretty good recommendation for a book.

It’s the first I’ve read like that in a while, but I don’t know whether that reflects my life, or the gripping storytelling. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, the book was weak in plot. If I was the editor, I’d have sat down and asked why a couple of scenes were in there. What was their purpose? I would have queried who was the protagonist, was it Catherine the princess, or her maid?

But maybe that’s my paranoia about the weaknesses of my own storytelling speaking.

 

Recommended to me by The Midget.

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