Quote . . . Unquote

Is it just me, or is anyone else mystified by the fact that so many people say, “Quote, unquote” before they utter a quotation? I admit that I’m a grammar and punctuation nerd, but it seems to me that logically, it makes more sense to just say “quote” before uttering the relevant phrase, and then “unquote” afterwards – as you would if you were writing it down. Or if you’re really pushed for time, you could just say “quote”.

If you immediately say “unquote” after “quote”, your verbal quotation marks contain nothing. You end up with a quotation that consists of zilch, followed by a statement that may or may not be a quotation.

Maybe people do this because they’re worried about forgetting to close the quotation marks at the end of the quotation, so they think they might as well close them straight away, before they even begin the quotation, and get it over with. . . ?

What do you think?

Of course you could always do squiggly, rabbit ear “air quotes” with your fingers to indicate quotes. The advantages of this being that you can communicate with deaf people, while simultaneously looking hilariously sarcastic. 🙂

The Northern Threat

Border reivers.

Auld Wat of Harden by Tom Scott. A romanticised image of a notorious raider, Walter Scott of Harden.

I was rereading one of my own books the other day, (because it’s being made into an audio-book – hurrah!), and I was reminded of the concept of “dangerous northern dwellers, who are always threatening to surge down south and cause mayhem”.

I started writing THE ILL-MADE MUTE twelve years before it was published, because it took me four years to write each book of the BITTERBYNDE trilogy. In other words, I started around the year 1988. By that stage of my life, the concept of perilous northern raiders was ingrained into my psyche. Which is how they got written into the book.

This is because I was raised on a diet of books that included a great deal of British history, such as the wonderful books of Rosemary Sutcliff and Andre Norton. And throughout British history runs a theme of Dark Forces in the North, threatening the more civilised forces in the south.

Even Mrs Gaskell’s classic NORTH AND SOUTH hints at this. In it, Northerners are typically “hard”, and live in a hellish landscape, while Southerners are soft and live amongst gardens. When I started writing my trilogy it seemed natural to me to invent a world in which trouble was brewing at the northern end. The idea of a wall between north and south also seemed somehow natural, and rather exciting. I’m guessing that’s due to the ghost of Hadrian’s Wall haunting my mind, when I was a child.

Throughout much of British history, there have been border reivers. They were raiders and outlaws along the Anglo-Scottish border from the 13th to the 16th century, who took advantage of a fraught and explosive border region over those centuries. Their feats have blended into folklore. “There were reiver families and clans on both sides of the border – the English reivers would raid into Scotland and vice versa.” [Wikipedia]

Probably, many of the books I read as a child were written by southerners who might have had a biased impression of the northerners, which is why I ended up with that impression.

Incongruously, my reading left Young Me with the impression that “north is cold”. “Cold north wind” is a phrase that sounds right to my ears, despite the fact that where I live, the north wind in summer comes roaring with the breath of a furnace.

Combined with the Christmas cards of my childhood, that depicted snow and robins, this made for mentally living in two worlds simultaneously. Which is, surprisingly, a boon for a writer.

The Power of Three

The Power of Three

The concept of the “power of three” has been present in various cultures and disciplines throughout history.

It refers to the idea that things that come in threes are inherently more satisfying, memorable, and effective than other numbers.

It has religious or cultural significance in many societies. “Threeness” is a recurring theme that people use to enhance communication and impact.

“Three” in literature

In literature, the power of three is often used in storytelling to create a satisfying narrative. For example, the three little pigs, the three musketeers, and the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth are all examples of the power of three in action. This principle applies to other media as well, such as film, music, and even stand-up comedy, where comedians often use a three-part structure to create a punchline.

“Three” in marketing

In marketing, the power of three is used to create memorable and effective advertising campaigns. Advertisers often use three-word slogans, such as Nike’s “Just Do It”, to create a simple and catchy message that is easy to remember. Additionally, product packages are often sold in threes, such as shampoo bottles or snack packs, to create a sense of completeness and to encourage consumers to purchase more.

“Three” in religion

In religion, the power of three is often used to represent a divine unity or trinity. In Hinduism, for example, there are three major gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. This concept of the power of three in religion can also be seen in other spiritual and mystical practices, such as Wicca and Druidry.

Amazing “three”

You can read more about the number 3 here.

By using the power of three with its associated symbolism, writers can create messages that are more satisfying, memorable, and effective. (How many fantasy trilogies do you know of?) 🙂

Inspirations for “The Churchyard Yarrow” & “Madigan’s Leap”

“Sheridan at the Linleys (1899) by Margaret Dicksee. (Later than the Regency era, but such a beautiful painting.)

The inspiration for writing Madigan’s Leap in the first place was British and Irish folk music. I have always loved the lyrics and melodies of folk songs, and grew up listening to the music of, amongst others, Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. The fascinating—and to me, unusual—lyrics of many of these songs taught me much about history.

In particular I found the horrific stories of press gangs in the 18th and early 19th century quite compelling. I felt driven to write a story about this onerous practice and the effect it must have had on young men, and indeed on entire families in that time and place.

Thus, thanks to music, I found myself writing about the last decade of the 19th century and the first few years of the 19th—in other words, the Regency era and the Napoleonic era.
Wikipedia says “The Regency era of British history is commonly applied to the years between c. 1795 and 1837, although the official regency for which it is named only spanned the years 1811 to 1820.”

“Madigan’s Leap” is set in an alternative version of Ireland during this era. It incorporates many aspects of the social, political and geographical elements of Ireland at that time, but I am a fantasy writer, after all, so this is a fantasy tale, and it bends many of the facts to suit the story.

I did my best, nonetheless, to clothe the characters in some of the (hopefully) historically accurate and exquisite costumes of that time. Most people agree, it was a time of exceptionally stylish attire for the military and for the wealthy. Isn’t that one of the many reasons we all love the novels of Jane Austen? 🙂 It is also said that “The uniforms of the Napoleonic Wars were some of the most elaborate and dashing in military history.”

The Churchyard Yarrow

The Honourable Mrs. Graham (1757-1792) by Thomas Gainsborough

Compliments of the Season!

As mentioned in my last post, Ford Street Publishing is producing a fantasy anthology in March 2024, and my story “The Churchyard Yarrow” is included. The book’s title is “Borderlands: Tales from the Edge — a new anthology.”

Let me tell you something about the background of my short story. It’s an excerpt from a work I’ve recently finished writing. The novel’s title is THE KING’S SHILLING, and it is Book #1 in a new trilogy called MADIGAN’S LEAP.

I began this work some while ago, and it was originally intended to be a short story.
I set it aside for what I thought was a year or two, but when I eventually looked at it again this year, my word processing software informed me that I had typed the first word in 2008. Even back then, the short story was taking on larger dimensions, because I had got as far as the middle of what is now Book #2 before setting it aside.
I recommenced the project, accepted the inevitable reality that it was expanding into three volumes, and completed the trilogy.



Achillea millefolium is commonly known as yarrow. Other common names include old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, sanguinary, milfoil, soldier’s woundwort, and thousand seal.
You know that when a plant has many common names, it’s one that people find useful.
From Wikipedia: “In antiquity, the plant was known as herba militaris for its use in stanching the flow of blood from wounds. Other names implying its historical use in healing—particularly in the military—include bloodwort, knight’s milfoil, staunchweed, and, from its use in the United States Civil War, soldier’s woundwort.” [Wikipedia: Achillea millefolium]

It’s the “magical” uses of plants that also interests me. Historically, in Ireland, on May Day or the night before, women would place a stocking full of yarrow under their pillow before they went to sleep and recite:

Good morrow, good yarrow, good morrow to thee,
I hope by the yarrow my lover to see;
And that he may be married to me.
The colour of his hair and the clothes he does wear,
And if he be for me may his face be turned to me,
And if he be not, dark and surely may he be,
And his back be turned toward me.

[Britten, James (1878). Folk-Lore Record. Vol. 1. Folklore Enterprises, Ltd., Taylor & Francis.]

Ford Street Publishing

I highly recommend Ford Street Publishing when you’re looking for high quality books for children and young adults.

Their mission statement explains that their books explore themes of contemporary relevance. One of their goals is to “provide children and young adults with literary works that explore the significant social issues of our time with intelligence and ingenuity. We see our books as speaking to broad audiences – in Australia and abroad – and not as being ‘issue-bound’ to any marginalised group of which they speak. The quality of our books goes hand-in-hand with building our reputation as a publisher.”

Their mission statement continues: “As well as taking pride in the calibre of our books, we always pay much attention to the design and presentation of our books.

“Our books span beautifully presented picture books for early learners, stimulating titles for the education market, and entertaining and socially conscious books for intermediate readers and young adults. Some of our young adult novels also achieve crossover into adult markets.”

I recommend Ford Street Publishing for their excellence, because director Paul Collins is a friend I’ve known for many years, and because they are publishing a short story of mine in March 2024.

Look out for “Borderlands: Tales from the Edge — a new anthology.” It’s going to be spectacular, with fifty short stories, illustrated by Anne Ryan, and it’s due for release in March 2024.

Isobelle Carmody will write the foreword. Other authors include Bill Condon, David Metzenthen, Kirsty Murray, John Larkin, Justin D’Ath and Simon Higgins.

My contribution is called “The Churchyard Yarrow” and it’s set in a fantasy version of the late 18th century. It is, in fact, a shard of a longer story (another trilogy) – a work in progress.

What is it about Music and Languages?

I’ve always been inspired by, and drawn to, the sound of different languages. Ditto for music, especially folk and rock. Hearing people speak certain languages, or even hearing their accent when speaking my native tongue, can have a physical effect on me, generating tingles up my spine and a strong sense of pleasure. Music can do the same; think of standing in a cathedral whose pipe organ suddenly produces a loud, prolonged chord in some minor key. The effect thrills and saturates you from your toes to the roots of your hair.

Some of my favourite accents include Finnish, Spanish, Irish, Scottish and Welsh. I also love the English regional accents.

The look of the written words of various languages also appeals to me. The Cyrillic alphabet looks amazing on the page. Japanese and Chinese pictograms look gorgeous, and of course we all love Egyptian hieroglyphs.

In the Roman alphabet, the written languages that strike straight to my heart include Irish and Welsh. I read somewhere that as a boy, JRR Tolkien lived in a house with a railway line at the bottom of the back garden, He used to love reading the Welsh names on the freight trucks as they rolled by. I can see why!

Tanith Lee’s Nieces

I have four works in this beautiful anthology, including poems and short stories. Here’s the blurb:

In the footsteps of the High Priestess of Fantasy… Tanith Lee – 1947-2015 – was a huge influence on fantasy literature, and a towering inspiration to a generation of writers, who were captivated by her iconic, poetic prose, her deft use of language, her surreal visions and her ground-breaking ideas.

Many successful authors claim that discovering the work of Tanith Lee encouraged them to write in the first place. In particular, she was instrumental in giving women writers the confidence to break the staid moulds of the genre – to be evocative, sensual and daring in their work, to smash boundaries.

Its title inspired by Tanith’s Flat Earth sequence of books, (in particular Night’s Master), Night’s Nieces is a collection of stories by female writers, who not only counted Tanith Lee as a close friend, but also as a mentor, a teacher and an inspiration. Tanith, having no children herself, considered these younger women to be her ‘nieces’ and offered her support to their writing. While the ‘nieces’ included in this book do not encompass all of Tanith’s close writer friends – for she had many – it amply provides a sample of her legacy.

Each ‘niece’ has written a short story inspired by Tanith’s work, as well as an accompanying article describing how Tanith influenced her career and sharing fond memories of her friendship. The book also includes previously unpublished photographs from Tanith’s life, as well as artwork by the authors.

Contributors include Storm Constantine, Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Vera Nazarian, Sarah Singleton, Kari Sperring, Sam Stone, Freda Warrington and Liz Williams. With an introduction by John Kaiine.

The joy of a rich vocabulary

Letterpress set of metal typeface

Why walk when you’re capable of dancing?

Why eat nothing but toast for every meal when you can enjoy a feast of diverse foods for free?

Like so many people, (such as Kate Burridge and Giles Brandreth ) I love words. We love their sound, the nuances of their meanings, their etymology, their power, and even the way they look written down. As a youngster I used to read the dictionary and thesaurus for fun. I love learning new words (in all languages) and increasing my vocabulary.

How is it helpful to learn more words?

Having a wide vocabulary is essential to effective communication, and it can have a lot of benefits both in personal and professional contexts. Here are some of the most important benefits of a wide vocabulary:

  1. Clear and effective communication: A wide vocabulary can help you express your thoughts and ideas more clearly and accurately. When you have a good command of words, you can choose the right words to convey your message with precision and avoid ambiguity. This is particularly important in professions that require clear communication such as teaching, public speaking, and writing.
  2. Improved comprehension: A wide vocabulary also makes it easier to understand what others are saying or writing. You can pick up on subtle nuances in language and understand complex concepts more easily. This can be particularly beneficial when reading academic texts or when participating in intellectual conversations.
  3. Enhanced creativity: A wide vocabulary can also help to enhance your creativity. When you have a large pool of words to draw from, you can express your ideas in unique and innovative ways. This can be particularly useful when writing creatively or when trying to come up with new ideas at work.
  4. Improved cognitive abilities: Studies have shown that having a wide vocabulary can also improve cognitive abilities, such as memory and critical thinking. Learning new words requires active engagement with the language and can help to stimulate the brain and keep it agile.
  5. Better job prospects: A wide vocabulary can be an asset in the workplace. It can make you a more effective communicator, improve your writing skills, and enhance your ability to understand complex texts. These skills are highly valued by employers, and can give you an edge in the job market.

It’s worth investing time and effort into learning new words and expanding your vocabulary. Reading, playing word games, and using new words in your writing and speech are all great ways to build your vocabulary and reap the benefits that come with it.