Thursday, 22 December 2011


I did a short review of Pete McCarthy's great book 'McCarthy's Bar' in which I mentioned a couple of his rules for the traveller. Here's the full list of those which are included in the book.  You'll notice there are a few numbers missing, so that's the challenge for everyone... fill in the gaps!
1. On arrival, buy a local paper and go for a drink.
2. The more bright the primary colours and ancient Celtic symbols outside the {Irish} pub, the more phony the interior.
3. Never bang on about how wonderful some unspoiled place is, because next time you go there, you won’t be able to get in.
7. Never eat in a restaurant with laminated menus.
8. Never pass a bar that has your name on it.
13. Never ask a British Airways stewardess for another glass of wine until she’s good and ready.
16. However exotic the country, the local radio phone-in quiz induces the traveller with a sudden and dramatic downturn in the will to live.
17. Never try to score dope from Hasidic Jews while under the impression they’re Rastafarians.
19. When perusing a menu, never consider anything containing the words “goujon”, “platter” or “cheesy.”
26. Any Italian travelling abroad will be accompanied by an even more glamorous person of the opposite gender.
28. Never get drunk with soldiers.
Anyone up for the challenge? We might even accept great new rules even if they aren't from the original list.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Mini Saga - it doesn't take many words to make a brilliant story!

Ken Magee Does anyone remember the UK Daily Telegraph 50-word sagas? Each story had to be exactly 50 words... here's a wonderful example called Targets by Gaynor Derbishire.

Every night he pretended to shoot himself in front of her. He enjoyed her pleas and screams of terror as the blanks went off.

Time for change, she decided wearily, swapping live bullets for the blanks.

Time for change, he decided jauntily; tonight I will pretend to shoot the baby.

Classic or what?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Compound words - a spelling lesson

When my editor/proofer returned my manuscript of Dark Tidings, I was surprised to see so many corrections to, what I discovered later are referred to as, compound words. Compound words can be used as nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs and can be spelled as one word, two words, or hyphenated. It sometimes depends on how the word is used and where it appears in the sentence. For example, word processing... a PC used for word processing will usually run a word-processing package.

Apparently I had adopted a very 'relaxed' style, which means I had spelt words in the way I felt made it easiest for the reader. I actually liked the style, but my publisher wanted formal spelling rules to be followed.

This was quite traumatic because I had to check all the compound words in the book... and that was after I had researched the subject and discovered that there are twenty-one (numbers are always hyphenated) basic rules. Here is an example of the rules.
A hyphenated compound is simply a combination of words joined by hyphens. The hyphen unites, and separates, the component words in a way that aids understanding, readability and the correct pronunciation e.g. well-to-do. An open compound is a combination of words so closely associated that they convey a specific idea or concept, but they are spelled as unconnected words e.g. lowest common denominator.
So now I have the basic rules sorted out, I can write the sequel without the worry of revisiting (not re-visiting) the whole text later. A word of warning though, have a good dictionary to hand at all times because the rules don't always give you the right answer.

And if you can't proofread the whole text, at least spot-check it (right or wrong?).

What word do you always struggle to spell?

Friday, 11 November 2011

Dark Tidings - Ken Magee's debut novel!

My book, Dark Tidings, has just been released on the Kindle. The paperback version will follow in a week or so. It really is a great feeling to see one's work in print.

I didn't realise just how much work there was to do after the book is written e.g. revising, editing and proofing. It also takes considerable effort to agree the cover and the blurb with the publisher. Here's what I ended up with for Dark Tidings ...

Not exactly how I envisaged it originally, but now I'm very happy. I plan to document the whole experience in due course, but for the moment I'm going to bask in the joy of completing my first writing project.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

McCarthy's Bar - Pete McCarthy

Every author needs inspiration and Pete McCarthy inspired me. McCarthy's Bar is a fantastically gentle and funny book; it grabs you from the first page. It documents his travels along the west coast of Ireland reminding those who have been what a wonderful journey that is, and making those that have not been reach for their travel brochures.

He was a successful travel writer and broadcaster and travelled the world with a programme called Travelog on Channel 4. Pete loved his time there and said "We travelled to Zanzibar and China, Fiji and Corsica, Costa Rica and Laos; stood on the edge of volcanoes, had lunch with heroes of the Crete resistance, and got caught up in a military coup in Vanuatu". This statement emphasises his passion to travel, get to know other cultures and people and undergo adventures - but things always drew him back to Ireland.

Pete has a number of travel rules e.g. Rule 8: Never pass a bar that has your name on it and Rule 13: Never ask a British Airways hostess for another glass of wine until she's good and ready. These rules appear at the start of the book - how could you not want to read on.

Pete was planning to do a follow on book about the fun side and the historical side of Northern Ireland (my part of the world). Sadly Pete McCarthy died in October 2004 before he could do it.

I thank Pete for this great book (and his scond book The Road to McCarthy). Inspirational.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Best opening lines of a novel... ever

I have been writing for more years than I care to remember. Mainly business writing - things like sales proposals, material for marketing collateral and web site content. I love writing.

However, I now have the opportunity to explore the world of fiction writing... and I can't wait to learn everything I can about it. I have completed my first novel and am working towards its publication. It will hopefully be on the shelves in time for the Christmas 2011 rush!

Of course, I love my book and I think the opening lines create enough interest to make people want to read on... obviously it would be a poor show if they didn't! But it made me wonder about the best opening lines ever... they say 'don't judge a book by its cover' but maybe it's OK to judge it by its first lines.

The editors of American Book Review selected what they consider the most memorable first lines of novels... 100 Best First Lines of Novels. OK, there are a lot of classics there but none that strike me as the 'best ever'. I would nevertheless have been very proud of - "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." It's so good that I now feel I must read the book from which that line comes; William Gibson's Neuromancer.

All in all, I think my favorite to date is from The Stranger by Camus - "My mother died today, or perhaps it was yesterday." You just have to read on after that.

I also very much liked how Terry Pratchett opened The Light Fantastic... "The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn't sure it was worth all the effort."

There are also some very special sentences in books which, had they been the first lines, would have been in contention to be the best in this particular competition e.g. Cathy Cash Spellman's novel An Excess of Love - "He was as guarded as a virgin, but infinitely more experienced."

And what about the worst opening lines ever? How about... how about we leave that for another time?