Monthly Archives: January 2014

Up To No Good

When you spend approximately 7 hours on hold to a company in the space of a couple of days, you get to know their hold recordings pretty well. You also start going a little crazy and vowing never to use their service again (or writing humorous songs about your experience), but that’s by the by.
I can tell you that if you are flying from Toronto Pearson with Air Canada, you can check in at the airport UP TO 45 minutes before the flight or online UP TO 24 hours before the flight. So far, so easy. But here’s the problem: those two uses of UP TO don’t mean the same thing. They don’t even mean similar things; they mean the complete opposite.
Online check in opens 24 hours before the flight’s scheduled departure time. In-person check in closes 45 minutes before scheduled departure time. Are you with me? Let’s have an example.

Flight AC848 departs YYZ 20:20 on 30 Jan.
If I want to check in online, I can do that anything UP TO 24 hours in advance, ie any time between 20:20 on 29 Jan, and whenever it closes (this isn’t specified in the hold recording).
If I want to check in in person at the airport, I can do that anytime UP TO 45 minutes before, so I need to arrive by 19:35 on 30 Jan.

So what does UP TO mean and how can these both be right?
UP TO means less than or equal to. With times, that means less than or equal to the amount of time stated. Online check-in is available LESS THAN OR EQUAL TO 24 hours before take-off.
But with times it can be used to mean before the time of day stated. In-person check-in is available BEFORE [the time of day designated as] 45 minutes before take-off.
Confused? I certainly am. In the law, we strive and strive to make contracts only interpretable one way, as writers we should do the same. So next time you use UP TO, especially referring to times, think if there is another possible meaning and if you could make yourself better understood by phrasing things differently.

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Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing

Friday Fiction – What Doesn’t Kill You…

Another great FF photo to inspire us this week, this time from Fictioneers Regular, Claire Fuller. I would love to hear what you think, but I’m unlikely to get much reading time over the next few weeks, so feel free to skip it if you think that’s unfair.


What Doesn’t Kill You…

Alfie could build anything out here. “Anything except a good marriage,” his wife, Betty, said. They were together 54 years, though, so he got something right. 54 years without an accident: not on the unguarded saw bench, not with the safety-less nail gun, nor the open wiring above the sink.

I once asked Betty if she worried about it. “Safest place he ever goes,” she replied. “No smoking in a workshop.”

She caught on early to what Alfie called the “Cancer Craze” about smoking. Alfie said coughing was just a reminder of mortality. He was right, but so was she.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

Service Interruption

Posts might be a bit erratic / non-existent over the next couple of weeks as Sebastian and I are going Grandparent-visiting and leaving the house in the capable hands of my husband, the cats and a bunch of painters.

In case I don’t get chance to post any Friday Fiction / InMon stories, I’ve set up some links back to my favourites from history. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do and I’ll see you soon!

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InMon – The Doctor Is Sick

I hesitate to post this story for two reasons. One, it opens up a discussion about Dr Who, which I don’t follow and don’t want to follow; two, the post contains swearing, for which I can only apologise and blame the character.
However, when this week’s InMon prompts came into my inbox, I was caught by the phrase “The Doctor is Sick,” and this story wouldn’t go away until I wrote it. So here you are, please enjoy. And please don’t ask me anything about the Dr – Janice is much more up on these things than I am!

The Doctor Is Sick

“It’s Liz now,” her niece, Bella, had declared over the phone this morning. “Bella is a baby name.”

Janice hadn’t argued. She’d always dreamed of being the Cool Aunt: someone her niece and nephews would look forward to spending time with and be able to confide in when they couldn’t talk to their parents. So if Bella wanted to be called Liz, Liz it would be.

She carefully pulled the gift tag off the biggest parcel under her tree and wrote a new one. “Merry Christmas, Liz. Hope these are as sick as the new ones. Love, Auntie Jan x”

Sick, apparently, was a good thing and Janice was rather pleased with her gift. Last time she’d been over there, Bella had been glued to the television and the latest episode of Dr Who, so Janice had dug in the attic, pulled out all her VHS tapes of old episodes and had them put onto DVDs. Then she’d spent hours on the computer, making covers that were exactly like the old ones, but fit into the new sleeves. It had taken her hours, but this was finally a way they could reconnect, so she wanted to exploit it.

* * *

Janice left the other adults in the kitchen and wandered back to the living room. There was wrapping paper strewn everywhere. The boys were fighting with their foam swords and she realised she should have moved a few more ornaments, but resisted the temptation to grab them now lest it make her nephews self-conscious about their game.

Liz was curled up in the armchair tapping on her phone. She looked up at Janice.

“Thank you for my present,” she said, the lack of emotion clear in the spaces between the words. She was saying it because she’d been taught to.

Janice was confused. “I used to watch Doctor Who a lot, I thought you might enjoy a bit of the back-story.”

“They’re all on Netflix,” Liz muttered and looked back to her phone.

“Oh,” said Janice. “But there’s nothing like having your own copies.”

“No. Thank you.” Again, the tone was wooden, and Liz didn’t look up.

“I imagine Slyvester McCoy is a bit different from David Tennant. Not as good-looking, for a start.”

Liz seemed to realise she wasn’t going to get out of this conversation. She put her phone to one side. “He was the Tenth Doctor,” Liz said. “Do you actually know anything about it?”

Janice saw the opening, but not the trap within. “I know Daleks can’t climb stairs.”

“Jesus! Stop trying so hard to be my friend!” Liz stood up, grabbed her phone and flounced into the kitchen. “Daleks can fucking fly!” she yelled over her shoulder.


Filed under Inspiration Monday, Writing

Friday Fiction – Another World

If you’ve ever travelled alone, you might know what I mean when I call it the most affirming thing I’ve ever done. Some of my happiest memories are of traveling with Jon (and now Sebastian), but there is something special about not knowing anyone when you arrive in a new place.
Back in 2006, I spent 10 days trekking in the rainforests of Brazil and in 2012, I went to Nepal and Tibet for three weeks. In comparison with the gap year experiences of many, they were small and unadventurous trips, but I learnt more about myself in those weeks than I think I ever have in the safety of home and company.
When I saw Bjorn’s photo for the Friday Fictioneers, it reminded me of one of the farms we stayed at in Brazil. Far from anywhere, our hosts heated their water by running pipes past the fire, so showers were an exercise in scalding and freezing by turns. There was no electricity, so we ate by candle and torchlight, having arrived at dusk, then we went outside and sat around talking into the night. This is the story of that night.


Another World
Our hosts knew better than to stay up past sunset, and retired as soon as we were fed, but we were used to bulbs and switches; night was a novelty. Bottoms accustomed to furniture settled onto the ground and eyes that had never known darkness marveled at the stars. Friendships, days old but forged by miles, glowed in the chill air.
A week later, we would walk through the markets of Copacabana and play tourists on the Sugar Loaf cable cars, but Brazil for me will always be Don McLean and a starry night in a farm with no name.


One of the safer-looking bridges we crossed!



Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

Someone Else’s Thoughts on Other People’s Words

Friend and fellow-blogger Happy Creations posted this commentary recently on writers who use other people’s words in their work.  I’d love it if you read her post and shared your thoughts – here or on her post.

I haven’t read the book she refers to, but her post got me thinking about how I use other people’s writing and how I feel when I read it. My initial reaction is to agree with Happy Creations – our words should generally be our own.

There’s a character issue: one might have a character who is just the kind of person who tends to steal the language of others (For example, a young lover might decide to win over his beloved by stealing Romeo’s best lines). I think that might make an interesting element to a story, especially when those lines are placed into an alien setting, such as the modern world, and when the recipient’s reactions are perhaps different from Juliet’s.

But for me, references are best at that level. If I wrote the hypothetical Romeo book above, I’d enjoy putting oblique references to other aspects of Romeo and Juliet; using the themes of Juliet’s responses, but to completely different ends. If I read it, I’d probably enjoy going back to Shakespeare’s text and trying to find these little Easter Eggs.

It’s the same when I read (or watch a movie of) a modern-day version of or story-inspired-by a classic, I enjoy it in its own right, but I also like to spot the more subtle hints of similarity. Ultimately, though, I think these homages rarely live up to the original. Even Bridget Jones’ Diary is unlikely to have quite the lasting impact of Pride and Prejudice.


Filed under Writing

Which is That?

This is a confusion I tripped over a lot in the past. I think I’ve got it now, but let me know if you disagree.
“Which” and “That” are used in a number of contexts, but the one I’m talking about is sentences like This is the house [which/that] Jack built.
Sometimes, you can get away without using either word. This is the house Jack built isn’t wrong and saves you the bother of choosing between which and that. Also, if you’re talking about people, you should always use who (or whom). I saw a bumper sticker the other day – “Trucks for people that work hard”. This is either a very clever play on words (the trucks work hard) or it’s just plain wrong (if the people work hard, it should say who).
But, back to the question of which or that. Microsoft Word has opinions – it gets upset if one types which without a comma in front. But adding a comma isn’t actually the whole answer.
WHICH is for subclauses. It should be preceded by a comma, but only because the whole sub-clause needs commas to bracket it off. A sub-clause is a part of the sentence that can be removed and the sentence would still make sense. For example, “The fork, which had previously been on the floor, was now on his plate.” If you take out the subclause, there’s still a sentence there: “The fork was now on his plate.”
THAT is for all other times. No need for commas, this is part of the main statement and can’t be removed. “On his plate was the fork that had previously been on the floor.”

So, this is the house that Jack built.


Filed under Grammar Rules Simplified, Writing