Art for art’s sake; English for god’s sake

Chris James
Chris James

Should fiction writing be art, entertainment, both, or neither of those things?

Let’s take a quick look at a few other branches of the arts to compare the basic requirements. A painter cannot create art unless she knows how to mix the colours on her palette. A photographer cannot create art unless he understands the relationship between aperture and shutter speed. A potter cannot create art unless she understands the malleability of the clay and the speed the wheel needs to turn. All of these requirements are basics, before any issue of imagination, creativity, skill or talent can be considered.

Writers have just one basic, raw material: the English language.

After nearly four years of looking at self-published books, I’m still amazed at the titles out there where the authors have not learned how to use the raw material. I’ve seen one independently published book with a typographical error in the actual title. When I contacted the author to point this out, they replied in such a way which confirmed they did not know how to use the apostrophe. Continue reading “Art for art’s sake; English for god’s sake”

Take Off, Eh?

I’ve read some interesting debates online recently pertaining to the differences between UK and US English. Just last week, our own Hise highlighted the differences between the two Englishes when it involves the punctuation surrounding dialogue. Boy (George), do people take this stuff seriously. As well they should, though—our wondrous English language is as essential to us writers as pickled sheep’s eyes dipped in fruit bat guano are to pregnant women. Utterly indispensable. But I ain’t going there. Neither pregnant women nor the Limey/Yank debate, nosiree. Not even fruit bats. No, I want to talk today about a different type of English, and one that oftentimes gets completely overlooked in these discussions: Canadian English.

Let me begin with a story. When I first arrived in this vast, slightly bewildered country from England in the late ’80s, I quickly found work in a group home for abused/neglected teens. Back then, I’m mildly ashamed to say, I smoked. A lot. Cigarettes, mostly (but I didn’t inhale, I swear). So, one evening I was involved in a stressful situation dealing with a kid who was flipping out about something or other, and once calm had returned, I said (ostensibly to myself, but for some reason the words emerged as out-loud speech instead of innermost thoughts… no doubt my first mistake), “Boy could I use a fag right about now.” All of a sudden, I had the rapt and wary attention of every teenager in that home. You could have cut the silence with a great big silence cutter (I was far lazier with my metaphors back then). They stared. I stared back. Someone laughed nervously and said “duuuude” under his breath. In that shaky skateboarder voice—you know the one. Now, don’t get me wrong, it ought to go without saying that the humour of this moment isn’t at the expense of gay people, it’s at the expense of a stupid, bigoted word alongside my own naivety and the propensity of adolescents to tend toward the homophobic. A perfect storm of awkwardness, really. Continue reading “Take Off, Eh?”

Pet Peeves: What Are Yours?


Pet peeves. The topic came up recently in a discussion with some other writers on Facebook. This one was specifically about the spoken and written language – English to be precise.

Now you need to know that I am over sixty. That makes me an official grey-hair (although I keep it red to match my fiery personality). My years have earned me the right to be curmudgeonly, a right I intend to exercise with abandon.

Along with those grey/red hairs come some attitudes and opinions to complement them – that is to say set-in-my-ways and fiery. And I likely have a pet peeve for every hair that hasn’t fallen out yet. Fortunately for you, the only ones I will rant about today have to do with English. Even so, some are likely to cause some smoldering resentment and maybe even a few flames of disagreement. Good! Continue reading “Pet Peeves: What Are Yours?”