Archive for category Non-fiction

Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test

If you write for children it’s important to know that the language and sentence structures within your work are suitable for the age range of your target reader. For the rest of us, it can be useful to get an idea of how accessible our writing is, i.e. is it understandable to most people or are our sentences and words too long?

The children’s author Lorraine Hellier recently introduced me to a function within Microsoft Word that measures the readability of manuscripts. It’s very easy to set up. Within Word take the following steps:

  1.  In the ‘File’ tab, click ‘Options’.
  2. Select ‘Proofing’.
  3. Ensure the ‘Check grammar with spelling’ box is selected.
  4. Select the ‘Show readability statistics’ box.

Next time the spell check facility is used within a document, at the end you will be shown a  ‘Readability Statistics’ pane. Among other things this shows the Flesch Reading Ease Index, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and the percentage of passive sentences.

The Flesch Reading Ease index works on a 100 point scale, the higher the index, the easier a document is to understand. A score between 60 and 70 is acceptable for most documents.

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level gives a manuscript a US school grade level. This link gives a conversion from US school grade to age and to UK school year. Roughly, the US grade + 1 = UK school year. For example 5th grade = year 6 = age 10/11.

Writers for adults will find the passive sentence percentage most useful. Eliminating passive sentences makes any writing more immediate and effective. We often write passive sentences without noticing, so this is a great tool for highlighting the need to go back through a story and rewrite these phrases.

How easy to read (and active!) is your work?

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Two Competitions

I’ve been busy novelling for the last eight months or so and haven’t had time for competitions. However, a couple have popped into my inbox lately and, since I can’t use them, I thought I’d share them with you lovely people. Fingers crossed, one (or more) of you might have what it takes to be a winner!

Travel Writing Competition run by Travel for Seniors
This is free to enter and offers a first prize of £100 plus internet publication. They want 750 words on the theme ‘Travel for Seniors’ and the closing date is 31st July 2017. Entries can be fact or fiction.
Details are on the Senior Travel Expert website.

The Fiction Desk Newcomer Prize for Short Stories
This is aimed at ‘new and emerging writers who haven’t already been published by us, and have yet to publish a novel or full-length collection of short stories on paper‘. There is an entry fee of £8 and a first prize of £500 and second prize of £250. Closing date is 31st May 2017. Full details are on the Fiction Desk website.

Good Luck!

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Win a Trip to Sydney!

Have you ever travelled via Heathrow Airport? Was it memorable in some way? For example did you meet your partner in the check-in queue or give birth in the departure lounge or were you en route to start a new life outside the UK?

2016 is Heathrow Airport’s 70th birthday and they are giving away some great ‘birthday gifts’ to the writers of the best stories. The stories will be judged according to the following criteria:

  • Quality of story
  • How the story shows personal progression/ development as a result of your Heathrow experience
  • If the story includes Heathrow as catalyst for change
  • How heart-warming the story is

The ‘birthday gifts’ up for grabs are many and varied. They range from a trip to Sydney through Gucci hampers to luggage tags.

Submit your story here and read the terms and conditions here. The competition closes on September 5th 2016.

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Notes From A Big Country by Bill Bryson

If you want to learn the art of writing humour based on everyday life, this is the book to read.Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

It’s also the first book by Bill Bryson that I’ve ever read. It came into my hands not through choice but because members of the library reading group that I coordinate requested something by Bill Bryson.

Notes from a Big Country is a collection of Bill’s columns about life in America that appeared in the Mail on Sunday‘s Night & Day Magazine in the late 90s. Despite being twenty years old the topics addressed are still interesting today, things such as the death penalty, Americans driving everywhere instead of walking, the devastating effect of a skunk spraying in your home, the history of diners (they came in prefabricated kits on the back of lorries) and how low key Christmas is in the US compared to here.

Bill Bryson has a wonderful turn of phrase and this quote made me smile in particular: My father, who like all dads sometimes seemed to be practising for a world’s most boring man competition.

I read the book straight through from start to finish because of our looming reading group meeting but I would advise others to dip in and out so that each column can be savoured like a favourite chocolate.

I had another American connection this week when I was congratulated on Twitter for my article in the Washington Post.  Unfortunately I had to be honest and admit to never having written for the Washington Post and explain that the article was probably written by my doppelganger, the US sports writer Sally Jenkins.  This is the second time I’ve been mistaken for my more famous counterpart. A couple of years ago I was contacted by someone who wanted help with their autobiography following ‘my’ success ghosting Lance Armstong’s It’s Not About the Bike. Perhaps one day the US Sally Jenkins will be mistaken for me!

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The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps and Helping Your Business Win

If (like me) you work in IT Operations for a largish organisation then you’ll find this novel interesting. If you don’t then you probably won’t.The Phoenix Project

A lot of IT Operations work is fire-fighting. Things go wrong, the users of the software that’s failed jump up and down and shout, then (hopefully) IT Operations fix the problem and everything goes back to the status quo. The things that go wrong are classified according to their impact on the business. For example a ‘P1’ might be a major failing in the software that allows customers to place orders on the internet – no orders means no profit for the business and this issue would receive the highest priority. In contrast a bug found on a little-used report would receive the lowest priority, perhaps ‘P5’.

The Phoenix Project opens with Bill (who is newly promoted) facing a ‘P1’ issue in the payroll software. He has to find a way of making sure people still get paid and thus avert a labour force walk-out. The stress that Bill is under leaps from the page and, if you’ve ever had to sort out major software problems as part of your job, your heart will increase, you will start sweating and you will empathise fervently with what Bill’s going through.

But the clever thing about The Phoenix Project is that it’s a novel-cum-textbook, so readers learn something too. It is written by three advocates of the DevOps movement (if you’re not in IT don’t worry about that term) and takes the reader on a journey with Bill as he improves the IT landscape for his organisation. It explains the thought processes and practice behind encouraging software developers to work more closely with IT operations colleagues in order to streamline the implementation and testing of new programs.

WARNING: This book should not be taken on holiday or read at bedtime because it will increase not decrease your stress levels.

To 99.9% of you this book will sound deadly boring. But it is a bestseller in its genre. At the time of writing it is #4,052 in the whole UK  Paid Kindle Store, out of the four million plus Kindle e-books available. I’m not aware of any marketing for this book – it seems to be all word of mouth from colleague to colleague.

We’re always told to write what we know and to utilise our everyday experiences and working lives. But I’ve always shied away from stories set in computer departments (apart from one Christmas story published by My Weekly last year) because most people would find them tedious. However, The Phoenix Project shows that, with some clever thinking, it is possible to turn the mundane into a successful book.
I wish I’d thought of it first!

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Travel Writing Competition

Steve Hanson from Senior Travel Expert has been in touch to tell me about their ‘Off the Beaten Track’ travel writing competition. It’s free to enter and has a prize of £100. Books hanging in a cafe in Madrid

Entries should be “about a fascinating, relatively unknown place near to where you live or that you came across by chance when travelling around, or it may be a totally fictional place”. The winner should “persuade readers of the Senior Travel Expert website that the place you describe is somewhere they would very much like to visit”. The closing date is September 30th 2016.

Often when you’re on holiday the things you stumble across by chance turn out to be the most interesting. I’m just back from a holiday in Madrid and Barcelona.  One evening we sat in the window of a cafe in Madrid and above me was hung a display of books (see picture on the right). The next day we spotted a grand building that turned out to be The Society of Authors building – which I think is something like ALCS but please correct me if I’m wrong.

And remember, you don’t have to travel to enter this competition – your destination can be purely fictional.

Spanish Society of Authors

Sociedad General de Autores de Espana

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January Sale!

Hands up if you got any of the following for Christmas:

Kindle
Tablet
Smartphone
Amazon Gift Card?

Or do you already own any of the above?

I can see you all madly waving your arms in the air and I guess you’re all itching to download a bargain book. So, from now until Sunday 3rd January 2016, A Writer on Writing and House Guests are both only 99p each (or 99c if you’re in the US).

A Writer on Writing
A writer who earns money from his work is not merely a wordsmith. A Writer On WritingA profitable writer knows how to manage his time, produce ideas from a blank mind and create a web presence, plus many more things besides.
A Writer on Writing will introduce you to these and a range of other skills useful to anyone hoping to make cash from their words.

 

House Guests
A cornucopia of contemporary short stories about modern life. House Guests and Other StoriesEnjoy a plethora of twist endings, some humour plus a tiny bit of romance. There’s also a special guest story by prize-winning author and writing tutor, Iain Pattison! So make yourself a coffee, grab a sweet treat, put your feet up and indulge.

 

Happy reading and very best wishes for a happy, healthy and successful 2016!

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