94: The Demise of a Publisher – and the Rise of a Phoenix

Grammar and punctuation book cover 2.jpg

It was ten months ago that I proudly announced the impending publication of my linguistic opus, Grammar and Punctuation for Key Stages 3 & 4 with Handy Usage Notes, by First and Best in Education. Well, maybe not quite an opus: I had, in fact, lopped nearly a third off an earlier incarnation of the textbook, which was targeted mainly at the British Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14). But, while the book had been shortened and, I hope, improved, its scope had been widened to include also older students. So all that was left for me to do was to sit back and wait for the royalties to start rolling in. Alas, a few months later I found myself a bewildered recipient of a notification of the demise of my book’s publishing house. How come: they had been going for years! Sadly, it appeared as if they were now going straight into administration.

But what is it they say about doors closing: when one door closes, another slams in your face? No, perhaps not that one, for I definitely wasn’t going to let this setback deflate me. After all, I am now a fully-fledged publisher myself. So my phoenix-like textbook is again in the public domain, as a shiny A4 paperback, elegantly bound, as well as an e-book, both available worldwide. And the best thing is that, with no middlemen to take their cut, I was able to slash the book’s price considerably. The book can be accessed via the links below, via the books page on my website or by Googling its title and author (i.e. me).

Paperback

http://www.lulu.com/shop/anna-nolan/grammar-and-punctuation-for-key-stages-3-4/paperback/product-22988266.html

 E-book

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N1QVWHD

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N1QVWHD

 For those interested, here’s a brief description of my textbook. The book gives an introduction to the grammar and punctuation of present-day Standard English in the context of their relevance to communication. Its up-to-date grammatical and punctuation content, rooted in British national literacy strategies, is particularly relevant to Key Stages 3 and 4 (ages 11-16), but the book can be used also for, and by, older students. Its unique selling points include concise notes addressing a range of relevant usage points, a spotlight on the areas which writers tend to find troublesome and authentic examples helping to bring the content to life. While focusing on British English, the book does point out some differences with American English – particularly in the area of grammar. Its main aims are to improve students’ communication skills (particularly written), to constitute an accessible reference source and to serve as an editing handbook.

I hope the book will serve its users well.

 

 

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89 – Grammar shot: Prepositions at the end (busting a myth)

It’s been a long time, but my mammoth task is finally over: I have just finished revising my grammar book for British schools. This explains my silence, although some of you might have found it a welcome break from my ramblings. Although English grammar wouldn’t have changed since 2003, when my work was first published, I desperately wanted to improve the book. To paraphrase the well-known adage, the work of an inveterate reviser is never done!

And what an experience it was. First of all, whatever possessed me, all those years ago, to produce a book of 128,000 words? In the intervening period, I have done a great deal of writing (and an even greater deal of rewriting) and copy editing and have come to prize economy of expression. So I set about pruning, snipping, lopping, chopping off and paring down determinedly. By the time the operation was finished, some 45,000 words had disappeared – yet the book seemed none the worse for it. In fact, I sincerely hope that it has emerged enhanced. Naturally, I have made numerous other improvements, but that’s by the by. What matters is for teachers and students to get as good a deal as I’m capable of offering, and I’ve certainly done my damnedest. The book is now with my publisher, First and Best in Education; I’ll announce its publication with great fanfare. In the meantime, I’ll be posting grammatical and punctuation snippets from my oeuvre, the first coming right up. It aims to bust a popular myth that we mustn’t end sentences with prepositions. Utter nonsense! Here it is.

Busting a myth: prepositions at the end

(From my revised textbook: Grammar and Punctuation for Key Stages 3 & 4)

As the name ‘preposition’ (‘preceding position’) suggests, the preposition usually comes before its complement, although – in some cases – prepositions are placed at the end of sentences. It is thus a myth that we shouldn’t end sentences with a preposition, and people shouldn’t be fed this silly proscription. The examples below show that the end position is obligatory when the prepositional complement becomes the subject.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

He is interested in Rebecca.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

Rebecca is the girl he is interested in.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

I find it difficult to live with her.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

 She is difficult to live with.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

I am passionate about grammar.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

Grammar is what I am passionate about.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

Look at this view!

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

This view is worth looking at.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

You must comply with this rule.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

This rule must be complied with.

Prepositional complement following the preposition

You should always listen to sound advice.

Prepositional complement as the subject obligatory preposition at the end

Sound advice should always be listened to.

A few other examples of prepositions commonly appearing at the end of sentences are given below.

What a state you are in!

That’s where I am at.

He has no savings to speak of.

Prepositions are also usually placed at the end of questions and sentences with reduced relative clauses.

Questions

What are you staring at?

Who is she waiting for?

Where are they going to?

Where do you come from?

What is he up to?

Who are they listening to?

Reduced relative clauses

She is the one he’s been waiting for.

This is the subject she is interested in.

That’s the person he lives with.

They are the ones you want to watch out for.

In a more formal register (style), many – though not all – similar sentences will have equivalents in which the preposition is placed before its complement. Such usage, however, is perceived by many as stilted and is rare in speech – apart, perhaps, from the last example.

For whom is she waiting?

To whom are they listening?

She is the one from whom he can’t bear to be parted.

That’s the person with whom he lives.

This is the subject in which she is interested.

In short, you may plonk prepositions at the end to your heart’s content!

 

83 – A Different Frolic: Beyond the Misty Fells

I have been quite busy contributing to, as well as copy editing, typesetting and publishing, a book by Skiddaw Writers, of whom I am one. The book, entitled Beyond the Misty Fells, is a kaleidoscope of travels and personal journeys; it explores landscapes, adventures, discoveries – and language, the last bit reflecting my own contribution. The paperback is out now (link below); the e-book will be published next week. Below is quoted one of my humorous chapters.

http://www.lulu.com/shop/http://www.lulu.com/shop/skiddaw-writers/beyond-the-misty-fells/paperback/product-22321984.html

An alien’s English odyssey

“I’ll pay for the cruise if it’s the last thing I do!” declared my mother, an ardent Anglophile, rather effusively. The cold war was on, the iron curtain was down, communism was in full swing and the free world was out of reach to us Poles. But she was head over heels in passion with the English language and worshipped a small island hanging off the western edge of Europe and, somewhat confusingly, concealing its greatness behind the white cliffs of Dover. Seeing as we were firmly in the grip of communism’s tentacles and couldn’t wriggle free to travel to the West, my mother hatched a cunning plan: she would send me on a cruise taking in the English Channel so that I would at least be able to catch a glimpse of the famous cliffs, which, to her, symbolised Britain. Granted, I wouldn’t be allowed to disembark, but my simply feasting on the sight of the island so revered by her would, she decided, be enough.

Although I never did go on that cruise, I nevertheless studiously devoured English and its grammar and, like my mother, fell hopelessly in love with the language, which would become the great passion of my life that would eventually lead me to Britain – and to this book.

Getting to this juncture had been a long, circuitous and bumpy ride, though. The English textbooks of yore, which were a veritable font of knowledge about those faraway islands, depicted a baffling but oh-so-tantalising world inhabited by moustachioed gentlemen invariably called Mr Black or Mr Brown, who always wore bowler-hats and pinstripe suits and carried umbrellas. I remember wondering whether these umbrellas offered adequate protection against the cats and dogs which were apparently always raining down on them. The sugar-coated ladies in frilly pinnies were continually rustling up heavenly delights, and the beaming and well-scrubbed kiddies at their knee were, without exception, referred to as ‘merry and gay’. I couldn’t quite understand why, when I finally made it to Britain in the early Eighties, I’d get filthy looks off blithe young gentlemen, otherwise perfectly agreeable, whenever I complimented them on their exuberance with the entirely fitting – or so I thought – “My, you are so gay!”, but that’s by the by.

But even such wholesome-looking people as those depicted in my English textbooks would evidently get peeved from time to time, and I formed the impression that they would then let off steam by kicking either the bucket or themselves. Oh, and they’d also kick the habit. I wasn’t thus in the least surprised that their dialogue was peppered with the interjections “My foot!”, as foot injury must have been an inevitable consequence of such outbursts. If you discounted those who didn’t have a leg to stand on, that is. And, judging by how often they would spill the beans, they seemed to me rather clumsy. On the other hand, they’d get on their high horse without falling off, so I failed to reach a definite conclusion one way or the other.

I also wondered why they were so fond of expressing themselves cryptically: you see, while they would say “Come through”, they would never explain through what exactly. Or whenever they announced they had fallen over, they kept you guessing as to over what exactly they had fallen. And why did they never give you a straight answer to “How do you do?” Such a perfectly straightforward question, you would think, yet they never actually explained how they did. But that’s not all – far from it.

Apparently, everybody in Britain always talked about the weather. And they had some very interesting national dishes incorporating cool cucumbers, keen mustard and red herring. Why, when they had such delicacies, they’d also eat their hats seemed entirely unfathomable. Then again, they appeared to harbour a strange dislike of the old hat, so maybe that’s why. And, of course, they drove on the wrong side of the road, which – to them – was right, although it was actually left. Another unsolved mystery was why they would stuff their fish into kettles. Confronted by such eccentricities, I felt I had no option but to try to read between the lines. Imagine my relief when I realised that, despite their frequent references to pet hate, they didn’t really hate pets all that much – certainly not the top dog or mother hen. On the other hand, they did chase wild geese and seem strangely reluctant to be sold a pup. And I must admit that their practice of skinning the cat appeared to me thoroughly repugnant, but they made up for that somehow by organising parties for stags and hens.

Their eccentricity notwithstanding, most of them seemed kindly, polite (it was only their health that was rude) and beguiling, so I grew up with the notion of a genial, though decidedly quirky, people who spoke a difficult but fascinating language which was hard to write and even harder to pronounce and where every rule had umpteen exceptions. Little wonder that, to me, Britain was mysterious, intriguing and alluring; it was also tantalisingly out of reach.

But, finally, when your border guards happened to be on a fag break, I managed to sneak into this great country (that your border controls were lax even then is incontrovertible). Imagine my delight when, at long last, I was able to delve deeply into the British psyche. Take the writing on the wall, for example. Since the lovely natives always uttered this phrase in grave tones, I was able to deduce that, like me, they didn’t approve of graffiti. And when you heard that they were always getting a third degree, you couldn’t help but be awed by their putting such great store by higher education. Needless to say, I was deeply touched by their enthusiastic “You can say that again”, with which they were always letting me know that they simply couldn’t get enough of my exotic accent. Charming people! And very, very helpful when it came to giving directions: they were always telling you where to get off. And what amazing generosity: they would even lend you their ear!

Anyway, lady luck had undoubtedly smiled on me, allowing me to put down roots in this wonderful country and to indulge my all-consuming passion for English with utter abandon. After a spell as a teacher of English and broadcaster at the Polish Section of the BBC, I enjoyed many adrenaline-charged years running public examinations, developing different types of qualifications for both English and Scottish authorities, carrying out linguistic research, copy editing and penning articles and books on English grammar, punctuation and usage. The sketches which form my section of this book are representative of my frolicsome style, offering a glimpse into my weird inner world, where humour and grammar blend into a whimsical mix.

82 – A post with a difference: Shafted in the shaft

This is what happened to me on 17th July 2015. While the tone of this post is jocular, I can promise you that I wasn’t laughing when all this was happening.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Aren’t they a marvellous invention, shopping trolleys? Mine, of sleek design and funky appearance, is rarely parted from me, and I wheel it around exuberantly. So it was to my stripy Rolser that I entrusted some books and other reading matter that day. The stuff was heavy, and I can’t be doing with attaché cases and the like. But one thing a loaded trolley doesn’t like is being dragged up the stairs, so there was only one thing for it – the lift, an invention nearly as marvellous as the trolley itself.

Even though I rarely take lifts, I summoned this one unhesitatingly, stepped in gingerly and pressed the up-button – somewhat nonchalantly. The machine creaked, shook and commenced its upward crawl. As we inched upwards, I marvelled at this ancient piece of engineering and wondered whether it would qualify for a listed status – grade C, maybe? As I was pondering if a lift could actually be listed as an object of special architectural or historic interest, the thing came to a gentle stop. I grabbed my trolley and moved towards the door – only to find that there was no door.

I stood there, startled: where the hell has it gone? I looked around, but all I could see were walls – on all four sides. Good grief! I looked up, and there it was, a sliver of light at the very bottom of the door. But it was way above my head; even on tiptoe, I couldn’t reach it. How? Why? What the …? I looked around my trap: the only thing I could do – apart from screaming, obviously – was to press the buttons. One was the down-button, one was the up-button, one was the panic button and one was the stop button. Well, I certainly didn’t need that one! I pressed the up-button with all the force I could muster – nothing. I frantically pressed the down-button – not a thing.

The next logical thing was to scream at the top of my lungs, at which point it occurred to me that the panic button could also come in handy. Granted, pressing it didn’t offer any practical solution, but both actions produced the desired effect: after a spell of my hollering from the depths of the lift shaft, reinforced with the alarm bell, a female chin appeared high up in the small window positioned at the top of the lift door. The owner of the chin, a female council clerk, for I was in the offices of our borough council, looked down into the lift shaft.

“Have you pressed the button?”

Have I pressed the button!?! Never in the history of button-pressing has there been a more concerted effort expended on pressing the damn thing.

“I have, I have, look!” I yelled and repeated the manoeuvre in a most demonstrative way I was capable of. The clerk nodded and disappeared from view. I could hear footsteps echoing in the free world and then some sort of commotion. Another chin materialised high up. I waved, rather pathetically. The possessor of the chin cheerily waved back and made a helpful enquiry.

“Have you pressed the button?”

Have I … ? “Yes, yes, look!” Reassured that I had, indeed, pressed the button in question, my interlocutor nodded and said, “We’ll get you somebody”.

“Maybe the fire brigade?”

The chin disappeared, and I could hear more noises; one female voice was pondering the practicalities of using a crowbar in similar situations, with others making contributions I couldn’t quite catch, although somebody did mention a ladder. Now was the time to appraise my predicament more coolly, if coolly could be applied to what was in effect an increasingly stuffy cage. I examined my trap again. How far was it to the bottom of the door – five/ six feet, perhaps? So, after they have smashed the door, they would have to lower a ladder to get me out. How many rungs would that be? Now, I have a confession to make: although I have scaled innumerable mountains, I’m no good with ladders and turn to jelly after the first few steps. But, somehow, I didn’t think I would be a reluctant ladder-climber on this particular occasion and began to feel slightly better.

“Are they coming?” I yelled.

A voice from above said, “Some council bloke is.”

“What council bloke?”

“From Workington.”

“From Workington? But it’s miles away – with the parking and that, it may take an hour!”

“No, no, they said 12 minutes.”

“But you can’t get from Workington to Keswick in 12 minutes!”

“No, no, they definitely said 12 minutes. Have you pressed the button?”

“Y-E-E-E-S!!!”

My exasperation with this line of questioning notwithstanding, I felt that, if they’d definitely said 12 minutes, further arguments would be futile. Besides, I wasn’t exactly in a strong bargaining position, although – with hindsight – I could have feigned a faint or something. But people of my moral rectitude don’t pull stunts like that. The only thing at this juncture was to relieve tension by cracking manic jokes, and I believe I started demanding that my rescuers be handsome and making other similarly inappropriate comments. Gallows humour, they call it – I can certainly see what they mean.

After more than half an hour, however, even this strategy began to show cracks.

“May I have the fire brigade, please!”

“He’s coming, he’s coming!”

“The fire brigade?”

“No, they are not allowed to call the fire brigade.”

“Who is not allowed?”

“The council.”

“Whyever not?”

The reply, if there was one, was drowned out by all the noises on the floor above, and my anxiety began to get the better of me.

“Please, please, get me the fire brigade!”

“Not long now, not long now. But we’ve found the manual!”

Now, lady pensioners, of whom I am one, are incontrovertibly a pillar of the community, but the image of them holding the manual with one hand and fiddling with lift electrics – or was it electronics – with the other somehow failed to offer me the reassurance I so desperately needed at that point. Were any of them (apart from the clerk, they were all lady pensioners) into electrics at all? I knew for a fact that one was into bird-watching and another into table-tennis, but I wondered about the others. Wait, wait, one said she was in the Women’s Institute! Didn’t somebody tell me once that the WI is supposed to have made great strides since the days of jam-making and was now into all sorts? But could they have possibly progressed so far? I mean, providing women with educational opportunities is one thing, but actually branching out into engineering …?

“Fire brigade!” I wailed in a voice I barely recognised.

“Won’t be long, won’t be long. But you know what?”

“What, WHAT?”

“Apparently, they serviced the lift last week.”

Heavens above, was our local government in such dire financial straits that they couldn’t stretch to half-decent lift maintenance? If so, we were surely all doomed, this refrain from a well-known British film racing through my mind. But the thought of my own impending doom was far more pressing.

“GET ME THE FIRE BRIGADE!”

“He’ll be here in a minute!!”

An hour into my imprisonment, I heard some loud banging and, for the first time, a male voice. A male voice! Now, I defy anybody who denies men their uses.

“It may be the fuse,” said the male voice.

“This fuse?” My lady pensioners were clearly on the ball.

I heard some more noises, and then, out of the blue, the light in the lift went out. What the …?

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I should have warned you,” said the male voice.

So he should have, but at least he was apologetic.

“I’ll let you know before I turn it off again.”

“Please do,” I squeaked. He did, but no amount of fiddling with the electrics – or was it electronics – could bring the lift back to life. There was further banging and shaking, there were further footsteps and confabulations, but I still wasn’t going anywhere.

It was now an hour and a half into my ordeal, and, to make matters even worse, I could no longer hear the male voice.

“CALL THE FIRE BRIGADE, PLEASE!!!”

“We are calling the fire brigade.”

Did I hear this right? It looked as if the lady pensioners had taken matters into their own hands – at long last! The fire brigade arrived within a few minutes. When it appeared high up in the little window, the first male chin, with a helmet above it, was a vision to relish. The boys set to work immediately. Amid much noise, the lift began shaking violently and then, millimetre by millimetre, making its slow descent to the floor below. Suddenly, a portion of a little widow appeared at the very bottom of the lift. I crouched and, instead of chins, I could now see foreheads, then eyes, then noses, then lips, then entire faces, for, in anticipation of my imminent release, the congregation had relocated to the lower floor. And then, I was free. Needless to say, the firefighters were the handsomest men I had ever set my eyes on!

PS

I have since written to the Chief Executive of our borough council, who has replied, assuring me that he ordered ‘a thorough investigation’ into the incident. To me, the key thing is to ensure that nobody is ever again left trapped for that length of time – over an hour and a half – because of some, totally inexplicable, rule preventing council staff from calling the fire brigade. On my release, I simply couldn’t believe my ears when the council clerk told me that her line manager had FORBIDDEN her from calling emergency services. She did phone the firm responsible for servicing the lift, but, despite the 12-minute reassurance, the lift engineer arrived only AFTER I was freed by the fire brigade. And, when he did turn up, he appeared completely unperturbed, dismissing my question as to the exact time of his arrival with a shrug and failing to show any concern at all. ‘Excellent customer experience’, which our borough council apparently prides itself on providing, it wasn’t – although it certainly was an experience! (By the way, show me ONE  ‘customer-facing’ – urgh – organisation which doesn’t pride itself on ‘providing an excellent customer experience’, and I will show you a three-legged Kakapo.)

PPS (added on July 22nd)

The said lift engineer, who breezed in blithely after the rescue operation had been concluded and seemed to exude I-don’t-give-a-fig indifference, had Express Elevators emblazoned on his sweatshirt. Express – you couldn’t make it up!

But council officials have been contrite and promised an investigation and a review of the relevant procedures; they have also sent me a nice bouquet of flowers. Given that I’m fine, we might just remain friends – as long as nobody else is put in a similar position.

79 – Punctuation shot: The main uses of the comma

Having witnessed much uncertainty, and even helplessness, around the uses of the comma, I have decided to devote this (overdue – apologies) post to this punctuation mark. Those who have read my books will recognise the list below, but I’m sure most of you won’t have come across it, so here it is.

The comma is used:

1  To separate pre-modifying adjectives having a similar relationship with the noun being pre-modified (such commas usually translate into ‘and’):

  • He now eats regular, healthy, substantial meals.
  • They were locked up in a small, cold, damp, dark cell.

2  To separate short items in lists, although usually not before the last one (longer items are best separated with semi-colons):

  • He bought bread, butter, cheese, eggs and coffee. (A comma before ‘and’ would be the so-called Oxford, or serial, comma. Unless it prevents genuine ambiguity, the Oxford comma is usually redundant.)
  • Their march through the jungle was slow, arduous and terrifying. (Ditto)

3  To mark off extra information in non-defining (non-restrictive) relative clauses:

  • Their house, which stands by the river, has been flooded. (Don’t forget to use both correlative commas – some writers do.)
  • She looked at the trembling boy, whose head was bowed.

4  To mark off extra information in other non-defining (non-restrictive) modifying clauses:

  • The year 1979, when he was born, was difficult for the whole family.
  • Poland, where they now live, has avoided sliding into a recession.
  • She gave the little girl, looking frightened, a reassuring hug.  

5  To mark off non-defining (non-restrictive) amplification:

  • Oily fish, such as salmon and tuna, contain important fatty acids.
  • Soap operas, such as Coronation Street, are quite popular in Britain.

6  To mark off extra information in non-defining (non-restrictive) modifying phrases (apposition):

  • Warsaw, my home town, was badly bombed during the war.
  • We’ve just seen David, our new neighbour.

7  To mark off other included units – both phrases and clauses:

  • The protest, I was convinced, had now become essential.
  • All students, during many hours of testing, considerably expanded their powers of recall.

8  To mark off conjuncts = connecting adverbials (adverbials linking sentences, e.g. to begin with, secondly, likewise, furthermore, moreover, besides, in other words, consequently, therefore, however, nevertheless, until then, in those days):

  • I don’t feel like going out. Besides, I have too much reading to catch up on.
  • Extra information is always marked off by commas. In other words, we put commas around those details which are not essential to understanding the sentence.

9  To mark off sentence adverbials (both phrases and clauses):

  • Frankly, I don’t give a damn.
  • Personally speaking, the Lake District is breathtakingly beautiful.

10  To separate coordinated clauses (remove those commas and you’ll see their importance immediately):

  • Teachers valued the guidance of individual officers, and inspectors found their performance satisfactory.  
  • He sold the premises, and the office had to relocate.

11 To mark off subordinate clauses (be that finite, as in [a] and [b]; non-finite, as in [c] and [d]; or verbless, as in [e]) preceding main clauses:

  • Although they tried hard, they didn’t win.
  • If you had asked me, I would have helped you.
  • Having failed her repeatedly, he was unable to regain her trust.
  • To be a good writer, you have to know how language works.
  • When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

12  To mark off phrases in the initial position (particularly where the absence of the comma would result in ambiguity, as in [a] and [b]):

  • In all, 5,000 schools were affected.
  • The day after, it was dumped.
  • In schools throughout the country, discontent was beginning to take hold.

13  To mark off some types of subordinate causes (disjuncts) following the main clause (although many subordinate clauses in non-initial positions are not preceded by a comma):

  • His work is highly acclaimed, for it has revolutionised our thinking about the issue.
  • Her poems are becoming popular, since they have struck a real chord with readers.
  • I managed to meet the deadline, although it certainly wasn’t easy.

14  With direct speech (although some writers use a colon to introduce direct speech):

  • Everybody shouted, “Get out now!”
  • “If you give up now,” she said to them, “you’ll regret it later.”

15 When addressing living creatures (see what happens when you remove each comma):

  • These are good, folk.
  • Don’t blame them, guys.
  • They are attacking, Ant.
  • Fetch, Rex!

16 With entreaties:

  • No dogs, please. (On this comma hangs the reputation of a man’s best friend.)
  • Desist, I beseech you.

17 With interjections:

  • Wow, that’s a lot of committees.
  • Well, how about it? 

Needless to say, the comma has also other uses. Important though it is, however, it often pops up in most unexpected places, in many of which it is decidedly unwelcome. But that’s the subject for another day.

PS

I’m sorry for not having been able to standardise line spacing in this post. While some people have problems with the comma, I struggle with formatting. Oh well, we all have our cross to bear!